The Corner

Is Rand Paul Already Selling Out?

On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal ran this piece on senators-elect Rand Paul and Roy Blunt. The piece is organized to contrast Blunt, who’s been around for a long time, with first-timer Paul. One is presented as being comfortable with compromises and the reality of politics, the other as a bit of an ideologue.

The article stresses that Blunt, while in the House, got very good at cutting deals, doled out earmarks to his state, and was very connected to various lobbies, including some represented by his family members. (The title of the section on Blunt is “Senator Earmark,” which I guess says it all.) The section ends with Blunt warning Paul — along with Marco Rublio — that they can be as ideological as they want before getting to Washington but will soon discover that things are quite different once inside of the beast:

The elephant, as it were, in the room is how well the Republicans can get along with tea partiers who are energized by their ideas more than the party. Cue Mr. Blunt. “I’ll repeat again: communication, so they understand. You got to keep talking to people who have these expectations so they understand what the fight is about at the moment.” He adds that Sens. Rubio and Paul are “great” to have in Washington, but “I think everything will not turn out the way they think it will.”

With that in mind, I would like to turn to the section about Rand Paul. Blunt is supposed to be the old-school, earmark-loving successful lawmaker, Paul the pure libertarian type. And yet there is this paragraph:

In a bigger shift from his campaign pledge to end earmarks, he tells me that they are a bad “symbol” of easy spending but that he will fight for Kentucky’s share of earmarks and federal pork, as long as it’s doled out transparently at the committee level and not parachuted in in the dead of night. “I will advocate for Kentucky’s interests,” he says.

Is he selling out already? I am fully aware that the issue of earmarks is a very symbolic one. Getting rid of earmarks won’t save us from the current debt explosion, nor is it likely to end the spending; it will just leave the decision in the hands of the agencies rather than selected lawmakers. Still, I could imagine that when a legislator submits his earmark request, the appropriations committee, at least sometimes, increases the overall budget for the agency by the amount of the earmark.

More importantly, it seems like a very big shift from this February 2010 post (“Rand’s no-pork pledge“) from his campaign website:

Rand Paul appreciates Republican Senator Jim DeMint introducing today a one-year ban on earmark spending and a balanced-budget amendment. Rand strongly supports both initiatives and has made them centerpieces of his campaign for limited government, including his signing of the Citizens Against Government Waste “No pork pledge.”

“The Tea Party movement is an effort to get government under control,” Rand said. “I’m running to represent Kentuckians and to dismantle the culture of professional politicians in Washington. Leadership isn’t photo-ops with oversized fake cardboard checks. That kind of thinking is bankrupting our nation. Senator DeMint understands that and has taken action to stop it.”

I would have expected a little more time between Paul’s election and statements like this one.

Update: In the comment section someone notes that it could very well be that Rand Paul’s change of heart  about earmarks is not real but just an illusion coming from the way the wsj paragraph is written. It could very well be. I certainly hope it is the case.

This is from the transcript of Paul’s chat with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour Sunday:

PAUL: No — no more earmarks.

AMANPOUR: No more? Not even in your state?

PAUL: No. No. But I do tell people within Kentucky is I say, look, I will argue within the committee process for things that are good for Kentucky that they want and also within the context of a balanced budget. Here’s what happens. You go to the Transportation Committee and they say, “What do you want?” But it should be, “How much do we have?” No one asks, “How much do we have?” So we just spend it. And then, at the end of the day, if we don’t have it, we either print it or borrow it. Those are bad things. There is no restraint, but that’s why you need rules.

Here he says no to earmarks but yes to transfers from the federal government to Kentucky to buy state and local goodies but only as long as it’s budgeted. It’s not really in line with my dream of going back to true fiscal federalism. However, if he can pull it off, (it’s a big if), it could be an improvement over the current situation.


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