In an age of voter disgust at Congress’s inability to get anything done, Senator Rand Paul is finding success through obstruction.
Paul, a Kentucky Republican, is developing a following that rivals the one devoted to his father, presidential candidate and Texas Representative Ron Paul. The younger Paul has done it, in part, by repeatedly insisting that Senate leaders schedule votes on amendments he’s pursuing on issues such as abortion or gun rights — or he’ll delay major, bipartisan legislation.
This week, as the Senate convened to pass a backlog of bills before the Fourth of July holiday, Paul demanded a guaranteed vote first on defining life as starting at conception, as part of a bill renewing national flood insurance. Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed the debate rather than yield to what he called in a June 26 floor speech a “ridiculous” request.
Paul has used similar tactics to try to cut aid to Egypt and Pakistan, bolster gun rights, reduce union membership among Washington residents and highlight privacy concerns connected with proposed changes to a U.S.-Switzerland tax treaty.
Congress had an approval rating that averaged 14 percent in Gallup polls over the first six months of this year, hovering near record lows. For individual lawmakers, there’s much to be gained at the expense of institutional efficiency.
With his stands, the Kentucky lawmaker is raising his profile among his state’s residents and voters nationally who savor Paul’s confrontations with a government they see as too big and unresponsive, said Gregg Keller, national executive director of the American Conservative Union.
“He has established himself in a very short time as one of the very important voices of American conservatism,” Keller said. “He’s absolutely right on principle and he’s speaking a language our people understand.”
The Washington-based group gave Paul a 100 percent approval rating and had him as a featured speaker at its Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month in Chicago.
Last year, Paul helped create the Senate Tea Party Caucus, a wing of the limited-government political movement that helped Paul beat Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who was backed by the Republican establishment, in the 2010 primary.
Paul’s tactics sometimes have generated consternation even among fellow Republicans.
Senator Lindsey Graham fought Paul when the Kentucky lawmaker attempted to block an Iran sanctions bill. Paul should realize the amendment strategy sometimes can backfire, Graham said.
“He will use tactics available to every senator to be able to be heard,” said Graham, a South Carolina Republican. “He can expect that other people who disagree with him will use tactics to run him over.”
In the flood insurance fight, Paul refused to agree to a motion to begin debate on the bill before the full Senate until his amendment was considered. Without the consent of all senators, Reid faced the possibility of having to spend a week on the floor garnering support for debate on the legislation to begin.
The Paul amendment states that the U.S. Constitution grants a right to life for human beings, which are defined as “each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including, but not limited to, the moment of fertilization,” or cloning or any other start in the process of creating a human.