Less than a week after his election, Kentucky's Senator-elect Rand Paul already appears to be making a rapid departure away from one of his campaign promises: an earmark ban that stood as a conservative cornerstone, a position Paul touted to indicate he was serious about tackling the reckless spending practices of Washington.
Here's what Paul told the Wall Street Journal over the weekend:
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.
Such statements would have seemed impossible back in March. Here's Paul's clear-cut pledge to tackle the "corrupting" carve-outs of federal money:
Rand Paul has made a ban on wasteful earmark spending in Washington D.C. one of the key points of his campaign. He has supported Sen. Jim DeMint's vocal support for an earmark ban and he supports news that House Democrats are even coming around on the idea of a partial ban.
The National Review noticed this vacillation Monday and wondered:
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.
The transformation would have been simple enough there, but, despite his comments to the Wall Street Journal, Rand Paul displayed a clear aversion to earmarks in a separate interview over the weekend.
This from his appearance on ABC's "This Week":
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. 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. In Kentucky, we have a balanced budget amendment. We have to balance our budget. So they have to be better legislators.
The apparent flip-flop highlights the difficult position that Rand Paul has put himself in. Though earmarks are omens of what Paul's conservative base has deemed the evil spending ways of Washington, they are also an important tool for securing vital federal funds for useful state projects.
GOP Leaders Boehner and McConnell both appeared dismissive and brutally realistic about the possibility of an earmark ban last week, painting it as a token undertaking that would not actually cut deficits or spending.
The new cooled attitude hasn't stopped Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), however, who is largely responsible for the conception of the idea of an earmark ban amongst some GOP senators. On Monday, DeMint was reportedly collecting signatures from Republicans in a move to call for a vote to ban earmarks.