The modern-day tea party movement has prided itself on its conservative values and efforts to shrink government, cut wasteful spending and for ousting politicians who seemed to have neglected their values and sold-out to political interests in Washington. It came as a big surprise for many, then, when tea party-favorite Senator-elect Rand Paul, R-Ky., suggested over the weekend that he'd be vying for earmarks to bring home to his new Kentucky constituents.
During his hard-fought campaign for the Senate, Paul pledged to support a ban on earmarks. From his campaign website:
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.
But in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, seemed to backtrack on this promise:
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.
Conservatives and tea partiers are no wondering: is Rand Paul backing away from his anti-earmark pledge?
National Review's Veronique de Rugy asked Monday, "Is Rand Paul already selling out?"
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.
So is Rand Paul changing his tune? Did he misspeak? Or did the Wall Street Journal misinterpret his comments? After all, Paul also told ABC News' Christiane Amanpour this past weekend, "No more 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.
What do you think? Is Rand Paul really abandoning is tea party anti-earmark roots?
Update: Appearing on CNN Tuesday afternoon, Paul reiterated his opposition to earmarking, saying he would not use them as a U.S. Senator.