A moment’s glance at the most recent hysteria in the media – including traditionally conservative outlets such as Fox News or The Daily Beast – will immediately inform one what the current supposed crisis is meant to be; Rand Paul has ‘blocked’ the 9/11 bill.
The bill in question, an extension on the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, was seemingly set for an expedited unanimous passage in the Senate. But instead Kentucky Senator Paul – as well as Utah’s Mike Lee (who has managed to hide from most of the fallout thus far) – cast objections that will instead require the House originating bill to pass through traditional, and slower, Senate review.
The reasoning behind this – at least for Paul – was laid out in his floor speech following the controversial move as The Hill reports,
“Paul objected, pointing to the country’s growing debt and arguing that any new spending should be offset by cuts to other spending.
“It has long been my feeling that we need to address our massive debt in the country,” he said. “And therefore any new spending … should be offset by cutting spending that’s less valuable. We need to, at the very least, have this debate.”
He added that if the House bill was brought up for a vote in the Senate he is planning to offer an amendment, “but until then I will object.”
A spokesperson for Paul later told The Hill that Paul “is not blocking anything,” adding that he is “simply seeking to pay for it.”
“As with any bill, Senator Paul always believes it needs to be paid for. Senator Paul is simply offering an amendment, which other senators support, to pay for this legislation,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Under Senate rules, any one senator can try to get consent, which requires the sign-off of the entire chamber, to pass a bill or resolution, but any one senator can also block that request.”
A Principled Stand or an Ill-Advised Stunt?
Previously it had seemed the funding extension was destined for bipartisan fast tracking after a high-profile hearing that included such speakers as critically ill first responders, as well as most notably an eviscerating tirade from famed TV Host John Stewart that quickly received widespread acclaim.
The vast majority of Congressmen were seemingly cowed by the performance – and more focally the outpour of public outrage it drew upon them – and were, as a result, lined up to get it through congress and out of the spotlight as quickly as they could. However, it would appear Rand Paul was not so quickly silenced, instead igniting a media firestorm against him with his denial of that process.
Senator Paul has made a name for himself making such stands against what he views to be fiscally irresponsible with moves such as filibusters, however this most recent move – while consistent with his principles – may have been a bad move on his part if only in terms of sheer optics.
Immediately following his gambit to bring the bill to the floor where he could apply an amendment that would take the funding for the bill from elsewhere (instead of it simply being yet another spending increase) Paul was barraged by the media on all sides.
Even Fox News hosted an outraged John Stewart accompanied by an affected responder where he was given carte blanche to eviscerate the Senator for “virtue signaling… on the backs of the 9/11 first responder community.”
The outrage is undoubtedly over the top and disproportionate for what in all reality likely only amounts to a small delay to attempt to avoid a deficit increase. But all the same, it is entirely predictable with such easily pushed headlines essentially amounting to ‘this jerk doesn’t care about 9/11 victims.’ Such a narrative makes for easily sold and readily consumed outrage.
In that sense, while the move is certainly consistent with Paul’s values and track record as an adamant fiscally responsible litigator, it just wasn’t a politically well-advised – or even perhaps viable – gambit.
Senator Paul, a longstanding and popular with his constituency incumbent, is not likely at risk in terms of his political career from this recent maneuver. But all the same it just flat out wasn’t a savvy decision with the entirely predictable massed outcry creating outright terrible optics for both him and his policy platform.
Paul’s long term policy agenda has always been cutting out of control government spending – and this certainly fits the bill. But the lingering distaste for the Senator going forward from this will not only be a tough veneer to shed, it will impact his ability to advance that agenda in likely more meaningful ways.
Rand’s bid to make the 9/11 responders bill fit his requirements for fiscal responsibility is principled and valid. But it’s terribly nonpragmatic. When dealing with the leviathan that is the US federal budget Paul has perhaps won a tragically pyrrhic victory in this battle, assuming he can get the amended bill passed. But he’s severely impaired his ability to win the war going forward.
It may have been a wholly honorable and consistent stand; but it was a terrible choice for a hill to die on.