Sen.-elect Rand Paul (R-KY) is making some of his supporters nervous, after an interview with the Wall Street Journal this weekend where Paul appeared to walk back his bright-line opposition to earmarking, a centerpiece of his tea party campaign for Senate.
“Is he selling out already?” National Review’s Veronique de Rugy asked yesterday.
Here’s what Paul told the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Kaminski on the weekend after he handily won Kentucky’s open Senate seat:
In a bigger shift from his campaign pledge to end earmarks, [Paul] 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?,” Kaminski asks.
“Not that crazy,” Paul “cracks.”
The National Review is worried. De Rugy writes:
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.
“I would have expected a little more time between Paul’s election and statements like this one,” she adds.
Paul was forced a number of times on the campaign trail to backpedal from some of the more “crazy libertarian” ideas he’s pitched in the past. His strict opposition to earmarks was not generally seen to be one of them, though the Democrats hammered Paul over his suggestion that the millions Kentucky receives in federal anti-drug trafficking money could be better spent elsewhere. Paul’s opponent, state Attorney General Jack Conway, repeatedly affirmed his support for earmarks as a way to get Kentucky a fairer share of the tax money it sends to Washington.
As a candidate, Paul stood his ground, signing a conservative Congressional watchdog’s “No Pork Pledge,” which promised to end the practice of budget earmarking described thusly:
* Requested by only one chamber of Congress * Not specifically authorized * Not competitively awarded * Not requested by the President * Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding * Not the subject of congressional hearings * Serves only a local or special interest
Paul’s post-election words on earmarks might look like he’s seeking wiggle room on the pledge. On ABC News’ This Week on Sunday, Paul reiterated his anti-earmark rhetoric but suggested he thinks there are still ways for him to funnel federal money back to Kentucky.
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.