Ron Paul, big-government libertarian

Gage Skidmore

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  • Ron Paul is one of the biggest pork-barrel earmarkers on Capitol Hill @marcthiessen

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  • Ron Paul sent 41 earmark requests totaling $157,093,544 for the 2011 Fiscal Year

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  • For a self-professed Washington outsider, Ron Paul sure seems to have mastered the inside Washington game

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In a recent column, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker declared Rep. Ron Paul “a consistent champion of smaller government” who votes against “virtually every piece of legislation that could be interpreted as government overreach or interference with the free market.”

There one small problem with the analysis: It ignores the fact that Paul is one of the biggest pork-barrel earmarkers on Capitol Hill. 

The Texas Republican defends his record, telling Fox News’s Neil Cavuto in a 2009 interview that “earmarks is the responsibility of the Congress. We should earmark even more.” And besides, he explained, he votes “no” on all his own earmarks anyway. “I think you’re missing the point,” he told Cavuto, "I’ve never voted for an earmark, I’ve never voted for an appropriations bill.” 

"For a self-professed Washington outsider, [Paul] sure seems to have mastered the inside Washington game pretty well." --Marc A. Thiessen But that is exactly the point. His strategy is to stuff legislation with earmarks that benefit his constituents and thus his reelection, and then vote against the overall bill — knowing full well it will pass over his objections — so he can claim to have opposed all the spending in the first place.

Consider Paul’s record. The libertarian Reason magazine points out that in 2009 Paul voted against a $410 billion omnibus spending bill that passed over his objections. But the magazine notes (quoting the Houston Chronicle) that “Paul played a role in obtaining 22 earmarks worth $96.1 million, which led the Houston congressional delegation, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of more than 8,500 congressionally mandated projects inserted into the bill.”  

Thus Paul got to have it both ways: He could claim to have voted against a $410 billion taxpayer boondoggle, while simultaneously vacuuming up tens of millions in taxpayer dollars for his congressional district.

And Paul continues to request earmarks. According the Texas Independent, Paul was one of only four House Republicans to break with his party’s earmark moratorium in 2011:  “Paul sent 41 earmark requests totaling $157,093,544 for the 2011 Fiscal Year” and “For Fiscal Year 2010, Paul requested 54 total earmarks, adding up to $398,460,640 in pork that the former presidential candidate sought to bring home to his district.” (The paper noted that his 2010 requests “were made prior to the House Republican Conference’s voluntary ban on filing earmarks.”)  His earmark requests are listed on his congressional Web site.

After Hurricane Katrina, Paul opposed government assistance for victims, telling The Post: “Is bailing out people that chose to live on the coastline a proper function of the federal government?  Why do people in Arizona have to be robbed in order to support the people on the coast?” He even even wrote in a 2005 column that “In several disasters that have befallen my Gulf Coast district, my constituents have told me many times that they prefer to rebuild and recover without the help of federal agencies like FEMA, which so often impose their own bureaucratic solutions on the owners of private property.”

Yet in fiscal year 2010 Paul requested tens of millions of dollars in earmarks to assist with hurricane recovery for his district.  His requests included: $51.5 million for “Reconstruction of Bluewater Highway Hurricane Evacuation Route Between Brazoria and Galveston Counties in Texas”; $8 million for “replacing recreational fishing piers damaged during hurricanes”; $20 million to fund a rural hospital in Chambers County, Texas (arguing that “Chambers has been adversely impacted by hurricanes Rita and Ike and by the displacement of individuals by Hurricane Katrina”); and $1 million for Trinity Episcopal School “to assist with recovery in Hurricane stricken Galveston, Texas.” 

Which raises a question for Rep. Paul: Why do people in Arizona have to be robbed in order to support the people of his congressional district?

Lots of conservatives play this game on Capitol Hill, stuffing bills with earmarks and then voting “no” to make their spending records seem pure.  But Ron Paul claims to be different.  He has portrayed himself as the most anti-Washington candidate in the GOP presidential race — and perhaps he is.  But for a self-professed Washington outsider, he sure seems to have mastered the inside Washington game pretty well.

Which makes Ron Paul a big-government libertarian.

Marc Thiessen is a fellow at AEI.

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