Sen. Rand Paul uses floor speech debut to say he won't be 'great compromiser'

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) used his maiden floor speech Wednesday to reject compromise for doing what is best for the country.

Paul, a Tea Party favorite who has already proposed cutting the federal budget by $500 billion, compared the moral compromises over slavery more than a century ago to the decisions faced by the government because of the budget crisis.

He asked whether the proposals offered by President Obama’s debt commission, which would raise taxes, cut spending and reform entitlement programs, would save the country from an impending “fiscal nightmare.”

“Any compromise must shrink the government sector and expand the private sector," concluded Paul in an eight-minute speech to a mostly empty Senate chamber. Only Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were on the Senate floor.

Paul began his speech by noting he occupied the desk of former Sen. Henry Clay, who was dubbed “The Great Compromiser” for deals he brokered that allowed some states to enter the union as “slave states” while others entered as “free states.” The deals temporarily preserved the union until differences over slavery led to the Civil War.

Paul said one of his Senate colleagues had asked him if he, like Clay, would pursue compromise in the Senate.

“I thought long and hard about that question,” said Paul. “Is compromise the noble position? Is compromise a sign of enlightenment? Will compromise allow us to ignore the looming debt crisis?”

“Henry Clay’s life is at best a mixed message,” concluded Paul. “His compromises were over slavery.” 

“One could argue that he was morally wrong and that his decisions to extend slavery may have actually invited the war that came,” said Paul, referring to the Civil War. 

Paul went on to endorse the path of Henry Clay’s cousin, prominent emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay, who took a hard line against slavery and was consequently estranged from his cousin in the Senate.

“Who are our heroes?” asked Paul. “Are we fascinated and enthralled by the great compromiser? Or by Cassius Clay?” 

“Those activists who didn’t compromise, Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglas, Cassius Clay, are heroes because they said slavery is wrong and they would not compromise.”

Paul’s fire-breathing rhetoric on the campaign trail in 2010 guaranteed he would be one of the most-watched senators in Washington. It also raised doubts over whether he would would work with lawmakers across the aisle to forge legislation that could become law.

Paul, whose father is Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), has joined the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus along with DeMint, and his budget-cutting proposal goes much farther than what GOP leaders have endorsed. Paul is also supporting a constitutional amendment to force Congress to balance the budget.