Congressional earmarks has been one of the key targets of the Tea Party’s anti-spending fervor. Angry over the House GOP’s failure to include an earmark moratorium in its “Pledge To America,” Tea Party supporters looked to their Washington outsider candidates to champion their current raison d’être.
One Tea Party hero, Senator-elect Rand Paul (R-KY), jumped on the anti-earmark bandwagon early, making “a ban on wasteful earmark spending in Washington D.C. one of the key points of his campaign” in March. Lambasting lawmakers who opt for “photo-ops with oversized fake cardboard checks,” Paul vowed to “dismantle the culture of professional politicians” even if he “ruffled a lot of establishment feathers” while doing it.
But after joining the GOP flock on Election Day, Paul is singing a different tune. In a Wall Street Journal profile this weekend, Paul signaled an about-face on his earmark position, committing to “fight for Kentucky’s share of earmarks and federal pork.” After all, he’s “not that crazy” of a libertarian:
Father and son, age 47, have different styles. Asked what he wanted to do in Washington in a Wednesday morning television interview, the senator-elect said that his kids were hoping to meet the Obama girls. He has made other concessions to the mainstream. He now avoids his dad’s talk of shuttering the Federal Reserve and abolishing the income tax. 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.
So you’re not a crazy libertarian? “Not that crazy,” he cracks.
In entertaining the idea of earmarks, Paul is bucking one of his prominent supporters, Tea Party hero Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). DeMint has repeatedly made it clear that “he wants to ban all lawmakers’ requests for specific spending.” “We can’t have 500 congressmen and senators who think it’s their job to bring home the bacon and that’s what’s going to change,” he told CBS’s The Early Show last week. Even House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) — who indicated in August that earmarks “could make their way back” if based on “merit, not muscle” — is now calling to “continue the moratorium on earmarks” in his newly-released plan “in order to decrease government spending and rein in the deficit.”
Ironically, while Paul touts his anti-establishment, Tea Party credentials, he is actually joining some in the House and Senate GOP establishment in disregarding the Tea Party’s wishes on earmarks. Presumptive House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) refused to pursue a complete ban on earmarks in an interview with Fox News last Thursday “because some things that people call earmarks here wouldn’t classify as an earmark to the American people.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was much clearer in his view yesterday, saying that ending earmarks won’t cut spending and that it’s not realistic.
If he’s already selling out his Tea Party pledges, as the conservative National Review suggests, Paul may be proving earmark-happy Rep. Roy Blunt’s (R-MO) sentiments correct: “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.”
Rand Paul’s new-found support for earmarks marks a stark flip from his anti-earmark position he held as recently as yesterday. On ABC’s This Week, host Christiane Amanpour pushed Paul on the ways he’d cut spending. When she asked about earmarks, Paul declared “no more earmarks”:
AMANPOUR: And what about earmarks? Would you say no to earmarks?
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.
Watch it (starting at 10:15):