The moral outrage of Mitch McConnell’s cowardly leadership

The wrong senator from Kentucky is the Republican majority leader.

Mitch McConnell
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

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A travesty occured in the chambers of Congress last night and early this morning. Republicans in Congress exposed themselves as hypocrites and frauds by passing an unconscionable two-year budget deal that will explode this year’s deficit and add $1.5 trillion to the debt. This is a level of spending that is three times larger than government spending in President Obama’s final year in office.

A majority of Republicans in both chambers of Congress voted for the bill, and President Trump signed it Friday morning. Whatever pretense of fiscal conservatism the Republican Party once professed has vanished from all but a few conservatives in Congress.

In the United States Senate, Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., stood in objection to the Republican Party’s fundamental betrayal of conservative principles. He was joined by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Paul held up the Senate vote Thursday evening, triggering a short government shutdown in the middle of the night. In a lengthy speech on the Senate floor, Paul criticized his colleagues for assailing government spending under President Obama and then outdoing Obama under President Trump.

“So the reason I’m here tonight is to put people on the spot. I want people to feel uncomfortable,” Paul said on the Senate floor. “I want them to have to answer people at home who said, ‘How come you were against President Obama’s deficits and then how come you’re for Republican deficits?’ Isn’t that the very definition of intellectual dishonesty? If you were against President Obama’s deficits, and now you’re for the Republican deficits, isn’t that the very definition of hypocrisy?”

It is, on both counts. And the liars and the hypocrites are outraged that Sen. Paul would dare expose them as such. Republicans are savaging Sen. Paul in the media. Sen. John Thune, the number three Republican in the Senate, called Paul’s actions “a colossal waste of time.” “He wanted attention and he got attention,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Penn., went so far as to suggest it’s “easy to understand why it’s difficult to be Rand Paul’s next door neighbor.” Dent is referring to the neighbor who assaulted Sen. Paul, breaking several of his ribs and putting him in the hospital. But receiving disgusting comments like that are the norm when you expose the swamp, as Sen. Paul has done.

So are accusations of “grandstanding.” Paul is being criticized for taking breaks from his Senate speeches to make appearances on cable news. Some call this “Kabuki theater.” It is better understood as taking his case directly to the American people when the leaders of his party refuse to do so.

What is truly disheartening, truly outrageous, is that Paul’s demand was entirely reasonable. He wanted a half-hour: fifteen minutes to debate an amendment to the spending bill that would respect the budget caps Republicans in Congress fought for when Obama was president, and fifteen minutes after that to hold a vote on keeping spending in accord with those budget caps. Republican leadership denied this request. The official line was that if Sen. Rand Paul was allowed a vote on his amendment, other senators would each demand votes on their own amendments.

Is this not absurd? Votes?! What is this, the United States Senate?! How could Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., possibly let elected representatives represent their constituents by voting?

And there is the problem. This Republican hypocrisy, this betrayal, is a result of failed leadership. Senator McConnell has once again proven that as a leader, he will not fight for a conservative legislative agenda. Under his “leadership,” the Senate has abandoned the regular order of passing a budget and twelve separate appropriations bills to fund the government, in favor of passing continuing resolutions to run up the clock to the last minute. Under this scheme, senators can be pressured to vote for massive spending bills they do not support because the alternative is shutting down the government. As Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., demonstrated yesterday, any conservative who objects to massive, irresponsible deficit spending will be shamed and accused of holding the military hostage. It is, frankly, sickening to see the lengths to which the Republican establishment will go to maintain the status quo of ever-growing government.

It does not have to be this way. As Sen. Paul explained on the Senate floor Thursday night, a reformed process in which the Senate spends the first three months of the year conducting hearings on spending and then passes a budget will end, once and for all, these shutdown crises. Permitting Senators to debate individual spending provisions, to offer amendments, to conduct their business in the light of day would allow both parties show the American people where they stand.

But leader McConnell holds the keys to this process, and he would rather the business of government be done in the dead of night. By refusing a vote on Sen. Paul’s amendment, he shielded liberal Republicans from voting against budget caps they once supported. By passing a two-year budget deal and raising the debt ceiling, McConnell shielded liberal Republicans from having tough fights on spending during an election year. He does not want to fight because fighting is difficult. Fighting means taking a position and defending it to the American people. Fighting means putting the Republican majority at risk to do what is right. Fighting means putting McConnell’s position as majority leader at risk.

And so McConnell does not want to fight, and the government grows. There are consequences for this cowardice. The national debt has already eclipsed the value of all the wealth produced in America. As the government continues to spend beyond our means, interest payments on the debt will continue to get bigger and bigger. With interest rates rising, these payments will consume a larger portion of the federal budget, which will force Congress to raise taxes on American families to avoid default.

As these interest payments grow, there will be less money for our welfare state. The government will be unable to write Social Security checks. It will not make Medicare and Medicaid payments. The economy will shrink, people will lose their jobs, and there will be no unemployment insurance. There will be no money to fund our military. The irresponsibility of Congress and the Republican leadership today risks a great financial collapse that will cause the ultimate government shutdown.

Tea Party conservatives once understood this.

In 2009, conservatives across the United States rose up to object to President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party’s profligate and irresponsible levels of government spending. Tea Party protests broke out across the nation. Tea Party candidates ran for Congress campaigning for fiscal sanity, for balanced budgets, for an end to dangerous deficit spending. In 2010, Tea Party conservative voters delivered at the polls and sent these candidates to Congress. The Republican Party took the majority in the House of Representatives, and in 2014 they took the Senate. In 2016, conservative voters delivered the presidency to the Republican Party.

The great work that began with the Tea Party has culminated today in a self-defeating Republican majority that renders the blood, sweat, and tears of these patriots as worthless as the campaign promises of the governing majority.

“When the Democrats are in power, Republicans appear to be the conservative party,” Paul said. “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.”

It is past time for new leadership in Congress. If the Republican Party will not deliver it, conservatives must look elsewhere.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to note that Sen. Mike Lee joined Sen. Rand Paul in objection in the Senate.


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Author: Chris Pandolfo

Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in politics and economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are conservative political philosophy, the American founding, and progressive rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.