By Alexander Bolton - 05/14/11 07:44 PM EDT
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a favorite son of the Tea Party, wanted a seat on the Senate Budget Committee, but was passed over in favor of a more junior colleague.
The decision was made by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who instead picked Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), the only member of the Senate Republican conference with less seniority than Paul. (Paul and Ayotte entered the Senate the same day, but Paul has more seniority by draw.)
Paul’s spokeswoman Moira Bagley said her boss asked for a seat on the Budget Committee at the beginning of the year. She declined, however, to comment about whether he reiterated his interest after Ensign revealed his plans to step down.
The Senate aide familiar with the behind the scenes jockeying said Paul did indeed make that request.
A second Senate aide questioned the decision: “I don’t know why he’d skip Rand Paul, I don’t know anyone better to have on the Budget Committee than Rand Paul.”
Paul has introduced the only budget plan in Congress that would balance the budget in five years, the span set forth by the Senate GOP’s proposed balanced budget amendment.
Paul is the second prominent Tea Party-affiliated senator to lose out on one of the plum assignments held by Ensign.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) met with McConnell earlier this month to express his interest in a seat on the Finance Committee, which Ensign vacated.
McConnell instead tapped Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) to serve on Finance, a surprise pick because Burr had stated twice publicly — once through a spokeswoman — that he did not want to change his committee assignments.
Some conservatives were sharply disappointed that DeMint lost out to Burr and voiced suspicions about the North Carolina senator’s apparent change of mind.
“Burr didn’t show any interest in that seat and then he was interested. That raised eyebrows amongst conservatives and they thought it was an effort to get around Jim DeMint,” said Brian Darling, senior fellow for government studies at The Heritage Foundation.
“There was wide expectation that DeMint was a lock for the Finance Committee,” he added.
A spokesman for McConnell declined to comment.
McConnell’s defenders argued that Burr should have gotten the seat over DeMint because he ranks higher on the seniority list.
But Tea Party-affiliated conservatives countered that the selection of Ayotte over Paul for the budget panel upends any rationale for picking Burr, who voted for the Wall Street bailout in 2008, over DeMint.
“For those who use the seniority argument as a blanket argument, please explain why Kelly Ayotte is on the Budget Committee and not Rand Paul?” Erick Erickson wrote Thursday on RedState.com, a conservative blog.
“This, of course, isn’t a dig at Ayotte. Just pointing out that for those who are hiding behind the ‘seniority’ argument, you are full of b.s.” Erickson wrote in a post directed at Republicans who defended the decision to put Burr on Finance.
DeMint and Paul are founders of the Senate Tea Party Caucus but neither of them have had a cozy relationship with McConnell.
DeMint clashed with McConnell in the 111th Congress over a moratorium on earmarks. DeMint wanted to halt the practice but McConnell, a longtime member of the Appropriations Committee, initially defended lawmakers’ powers to direct federal spending in their home states.
DeMint defied McConnell by endorsing Paul in the 2010 Kentucky Republican primary after McConnell backed former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson. Some Republicans saw DeMint’s involvement in McConnell’s political backyard as a breach of Senate protocol.
Paul hasn’t had the warmest friendship with McConnell since coming to Washington. Paul surprised colleagues by criticizing former Kentucky Sen. Henry Clay, one of McConnell’s role models, during his maiden Senate floor speech.
“Henry Clay’s life story is, at best, a mixed message,” Paul said. “Henry Clay’s great compromise was over slavery. One could argue that he rose above sectional strife to carve out compromise after compromise trying to ward off civil war.
“Or one could argue that his compromises were morally wrong and may have even encouraged war, that his compromises meant the acceptance during his 50 years of public life of not only slavery, but the slave trade itself,” he said.
McConnell walked off the floor in the middle of that speech by Paul. An aide later said he had to attend a previously scheduled meeting.