In case you haven’t heard, the dreaded Government shutdown was narrowly avoided Thursday night as both parties made last-minute maneuvers to pass a budget deal and keep the lights on in DC. The deal reached between the GOP and Democrats is chock full of new spending all over the place which originally caused Senator Rand Paul to threaten a torpedo on the framework to derail the process. Well, the deal passed despite Paul’s objections, but he’s still not too happy about it. With his opposition to new spending, and concern about the rising national debt, Paul makes a larger point about “fiscal conservatives” within the Republican Party who seem to have forgotten what they used to rail about under President Obama just a few short years ago.
Here’s a rundown from The Atlantic on what transpired in the last 48 hours between Rand Paul and Senate Republicans:
There was no reason for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to feel nervous on Thursday morning. The day before, he and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had announced an agreement on a massive two-year budget deal to attach to a short-term funding bill. A few Senate Republicans were annoyed, to be sure—the deal busts through budget caps, allocating nearly $300 billion in defense and nondefense spending, along with $89 billion in disaster relief and a one-year suspension of the debt limit. But Schumer had corralled the support of more than enough Democrats. They’d easily reach 60 votes. And as South Dakota Senator John Thune told House members on the floor last evening, they’d likely have a vote ready by lunchtime.
Fast forward to early Thursday evening. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul took the floor, arguing that the United States must withdraw troops from Afghanistan. He then switched to a collection of colorful signs, one lambasting California’s allotment of funds for school lunches (“School Lunch Programs: Feeding Lawns, Not Kids”), and another calling the D.C. streetcar system, “A Streetcar Named Waste.” And just after 11 p.m., the Senate adjourned until 12:01 a.m. without voting on a spending bill, shutting down the government.
As of midnight, the “Rand Paul shutdown” had begun, though it wouldn’t last long as we’ve learned this morning.
At 1:53 a.m., the Senate at last voted and passed the bill, 71 votes to 28. And after a tense standoff with House Democrats, at 5:30 a.m., Republican leadership claimed victory in the lower chamber, passing the deal and reopening the government, 240 votes to 186. 73 Democrats broke from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to vote in favor.
In the end, both parties were forced to wrestle with their own respective fallouts: Democrats, on the directionless nature of their leadership, as yet another shutdown fight yielded no tangible victories. And Republicans, on whether their longtime message of fiscal prudence had become a permanent relic of the past.
Let’s focus on the GOP issues for the moment. Paul is correctly pointing out that the Republican Party used to be filled with deficit hawks and national debt hawks concerned about ballooning spending under President Bush and President Obama. In 2010, as a response to President Obama’s expansion of government into health care and more spending, Republicans ran on a “Tea Party” platform of reducing spending, shrinking government, and tackling the national debt. Fast-forward to 2018, just eight years later, and the same people are giving up on reduced spending in the age of President Trump.
Paul wasn’t happy on Thursday:
When the Democrats are in power, Republicans appear to be the conservative party. But when Republicans are in power, it seems there is no conservative party.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) February 8, 2018
And as Chris Cillizza points out, at CNN, Paul is simply doing what Republicans used to say they stood for: opposing new spending:
When Rand Paul took control of the Senate floor just before 6 p.m. Eastern, virtually every one of his Republican colleagues grimaced. Five years ago, they would have cheered him.
Paul’s speech, which slowed attempts to pass a massive budget deal before the government shuts down at midnight, was a savaging of his party — a party that appears to have turned 180 degrees from the deficit hawks of the mid 2010s who insisted that government spending was ballooning out of control and was crippling the country.
“When the Democrats are in power, Republicans appear to be the conservative party,” Paul said at one point. “But when Republicans are in power, it seems there is no conservative party. The hypocrisy hangs in the air and chokes anyone with a sense of decency or intellectual honesty.”
He is 100% right.
The simple fact is that Republicans in the Obama era defined themselves primarily as committed to reducing government spending and shrinking the nation’s debt. The ur-document of that age was Paul Ryan’s budget, in which he proudly touted the need to confront entitlement spending and make the hard cuts necessary to keep the country solvent for the foreseeable future.
“Our debt is a threat to this country,” Ryan said in a 2013 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “We have to tackle this problem before it tackles us.”
He was far from alone. Republicans insisted that any spending legislation — even for disaster relief — be paid for with budget offsets. Every major Republican leader talked about debt and deficit relentlessly.
That focus on deficit reduction and spending restraint bled into the 2016 primary as the top tier candidates — including Paul — championed it. One candidate, however, did not.
That candidate was Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “king of debt.” Trump showed little care or concern for the issue that had animated the party he was running to lead.
Cillizza is partially right on Trump, the debt was not a top priority for him during the 2016 campaign. Trump did, however, state at various times that he intended to wipe out the national debt in 8 years. See this story from The Hill dated April 2, 2016:
Donald Trump insists he would be able to wipe out the United States’s debt in eight years.
The Republican presidential front-runner said in a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Post that he’d be able to get rid of the more than $19 trillion debt “over a period of eight years.”
Eliminating that amount of debt in eight years is highly improbable, according to most economists, The Washington Post reported. It could require using $2 trillion a year from the annual $4 trillion budget to pay off holders of the debt.
Trump insisted in the interview that “renegotiating all of our deals” would help pay down the debt by sparking economic growth.
Whether Trump was serious about that, or simply trying to exaggerate for effect, clearly we won’t be paying off $20 trillion by the year 2024. Not even the rosiest of scenarios can make an argument for it.
Either way, the current budget deal is almost a drop in the bucket when it comes to the grand scheme of federal spending, but giving this one a wink and a nod basically means that Republicans would rather avoid the shutdown fallout rather than haggle over spending. If this gives you an indication of what to expect when the push for an infrastructure bill goes full steam, just wait for the Rand Paul 12 hour filibuster over a trillion dollars in new roads and bridges.