Rand Paul tried to do his job, and got the wrath of the Senate in exchange

Rand Paul tried to do his job, and got the wrath of the Senate in exchange
© Getty

While you were (hopefully) sleeping last Thursday night, the government shut down. The only way most Americans would have noticed is if they were awoken by the shrill, indignant screams coming from senators made furious by having do their jobs.

In the wee hours of Friday morning, congressional Republicans passed a bill that blew a $2 trillion-dollar black hole in the deficit, annihilated the budget caps, raised the debt ceiling, and funded all manner of unrelated spending, from agriculture subsidies to child care. All told, the bill amounted to spending that was 311 percent higher than President Obama’s final budget request.

Senate Republicans, all of whom ran on a platform of conservative fiscal policies, were ready to pass the bill almost immediately, without any debate or amendments.

ADVERTISEMENT
All except for one. Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh MORE (R-Ky.) wasn’t happy with the policies outlined in the legislation. For one thing, he wanted to have time to read the 700-page bill. (Imagine that.) But then he wanted to offer an amendment to restore the budget caps that the deal would undo.

 

In other words, he wanted to do his job. He wanted to read the bill, debate it in the Senate, and legislate.

And what did he get for it? The disdain of greater Washington. He was trashed in the press, ridiculed by reporters and rhetorically tarred and feathered by his own colleagues.

Politico called it the “dumbest shutdown ever,” and the “stupidest thing to happen to Congress in three weeks.” The Associated Press labeled Paul a “veteran Senate pest.” Reporters complained endlessly on Twitter about having to stay up late to cover the Senate floor.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE The real reason Scott Pruitt is gone: Putting a key voting bloc at risk Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers eye ban on Chinese surveillance cameras | DOJ walks back link between fraud case, OPM breach | GOP senators question Google on Gmail data | FCC under pressure to delay Sinclair merger review MORE (R-S.D.) called Paul’s refusal to give up his debate time and pass the bill a “colossal waste of everyone’s time.” Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynSunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (R-Texas) fumed that Paul’s attempts to get an amendment vote were “grossly irresponsible,” and that allowing him to have his vote would “reward bad behavior.”

Senators were making jokes about Paul’s neighbor, who recently was charged with felony assault for breaking six of Paul’s ribs. Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentEx-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups Dem, GOP groups prepare spending blitz for midterms Fortenberry named chairman of legislative appropriations subcommittee in House MORE (R-Pa.) went so far as to do so on the record.

Apparently public shaming by all of Washington is the going price for getting an amendment vote in the United States Senate. This embarrassing for the Senate and bad for the country.

I’ve written extensively about the laziness of the modern Senate and the impact it has on the ability of Republicans to achieve their agenda. Last week, that laziness reached an apex, with senators apparently irritated that they couldn’t end their 2.5-day workweek on time, and instead had to stay and debate. And, as the comments from Thune, Cornyn and others make clear, they thought that debate — that is, doing their job as senators — wasn’t even worth their time.

More insidious, however is the affect these comments have on dismissing Paul’s efforts to participate in the legislative process. Paul’s attempt to have his concerns heard, debated and considered is his right as a senator, as it is the right of all senators. Yet none of the criticisms made against Paul had anything to do with the substance of his point. Not a single senator engaged Paul on the merits of what he was proposing. Rather, they merely groused about having to stay at work on a Thursday and threw barbs at the guy keeping them there.

As Senate expert James Wallner noted in an instructive Twitter thread, the condescending dismissal of Paul’s critiques “delegitimizes a senator’s right to participate.” Wallner goes on, “in virtually every instance, Paul’s colleagues are barring Paul from the right to participate in the political debate. These comments impact not just Paul but go on to send a message to anyone who disagrees with the majority. They say, “don’t bother showing up to legislate.”

It’s a troubling development for an institution where shutdowns and partisan filibusters represent the starting point for basic negotiations. On the merits of what Paul was proposing, however — a debate about fiscal conservatism — it could not be more damning.

Republican senators who ran on a platform of responsible fiscal policies couldn’t even bother to debate a bill that spent three times as much as the Obama White House requested in its last year in office. And for his efforts to make them do so, Rand Paul was labeled an irresponsible pest.

It begs an obvious question of who is more irresponsible: The man standing athwart history screaming stop, or the charlatans cutting his legs out from under him?

Rachel Bovard (@RachelBovard) is the senior director of policy for The Conservative Partnership, a nonprofit group headed by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint aimed at promoting limited government.