While the federal government turned off its lights when most Americans were already fast asleep, the Senate quickly voted to put the lights back on after passing a 600-page government funding bill. That bill, which adds an additional $300 billion in discretionary spending over a period of two fiscal years, was why Paul objected to a speedy process in the first place. His Senate colleagues, Republicans and Democrats included, didn’t appreciate what the junior senator from Kentucky was doing – blatantly missing the irony that so-called fiscal conservatives like Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn were now defending a spending bonanza that burst through budget caps they supported as a mechanism to restrain Washington’s spending habit.
Rand Paul’s objection to speedy passage was not so much an act of obstruction as it was a last-minute plea to force his fellow senators to justify their support for a funding package that may add $1 trillion a year to the deficit. “The reason I’m here tonight is to put people on the spot,” Mr. Paul said on the Senate floor. “I want people to feel uncomfortable. I want them to have to answer people at home who said, ‘How come you were against President Obama’s deficits and then how come you’re for Republican deficits.”
For one reason or another, Republicans who complained about Washington’s addiction to spending during the Obama administration were oddly silent or visibly irritated last night. Sen. Thom Tillis faced off with Paul in the chamber and in senatorial speak told him to get a life: “You can make a point all you want. But points are forgotten.” A senior GOP legislative aid called the short shut down one of the “stupidest” things Congress has had to confront in weeks. One could take issue with that characterization; lumping 12 appropriations bills into one text and demanding lawmakers vote for it before most have even read the bill sounds pretty stupid, too.
Sen. Paul’s critics are predictable. They will cite his blockage of a timely vote as yet more grandstanding from the Kentucky Republican, an altogether selfish act meant to bring the name “Rand Paul” back into the national political conversation. Defense hawks and neoconservatives like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, will present the argument that Paul cares more about ideological dogma and his personal reputation than the men and women of America’s armed forces – in the minds of both lawmakers, patriotism and love for the U.S. military is best shown by bending over backward for the Pentagon, giving the service chiefs whatever they ask for, and shoveling hundreds of billions of additional taxpayer dollars into a department that hasn’t yet been fully audited.
Whether Paul chose the right legislative tactic is certainly debatable. If there is anything the American people can’t stand, it’s lawmakers shutting down the government to make a point. Paul hasn’t made any friends in doing what he did last night.
Even so, the point Rand Paul was making was indisputably correct: Republicans are selective when it comes to cutting deficits; Washington is as infected with spending big under GOP control as it was when Democrats were in the majority, and the appropriations process is broken. After all, why debate and amend 12 appropriations bills under regular order when you can use that time playing politics and wait until the very last minute? Why actually read what’s in each agency or department funding bill when you can combine everything into a giant omnibus and pressure rank-and-file lawmakers with a choice: vote in the affirmative or be tarred and feathered in the public square while irresponsibly furloughing hundreds of thousands of federal employees?
It stretches the depths of imagination to picture Washington reforming how it makes spending decisions. It’s easier to believe the country is past the point of no return. People like Rand Paul aren’t giving up, but he will need help to make fiscal responsibility more than just a fad.