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Bill Straub: Rand Paul’s excuse for voting against 9/11 victim’s compensation bill was deficit. Really?

Sen. Rand Paul wants it both ways.

That, as you likely realize, is par for the course with politicians who too often say one thing and then do something different, hoping no one notices. But it’s particularly striking for the Bowling Green Republican who presents himself as the Drakon Kholkikos when it comes to guarding the federal treasury, tersely rejecting various efforts to fund initiatives that would contribute to a national debt that now measures more than $22 trillion.

The most recent example of Paul’s skinflintery involved a bipartisan measure to provide some monetary relief to first responders and victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City. That attack resulted in the loss of thousands of lives, the destruction of the World Trade Center, and left many emergency personnel who answered the call with various infirmities and ailments.

A victims’ compensation fund was established by Congress but was running out of money and slated to stop accepting claims sometime in 2020. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kristin Gillibrand, of New York, a declared candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, extended the fund for 70 years and added an estimated $10.2 billion to the operation for the first 10 years.

Rand Paul

The bill took a circuitous route, drawing the wrath of Jon Stewart, the comedian and former host of The Daily Show who has assumed the role of victims’ champion. He accused Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell, of Louisville, who controls the flow of legislation to the chamber’s floor, of dragging his feet in considering action on the urgently needed legislation.

Stewart said the bill “has never been dealt with compassionately’’ by McConnell and he “deigned to move on it” only after “intense lobbying and public shaming.”

But move on it he eventually did and in McConnell’s defense (rare, I know, for this column) he consistently said Congress would “take care of the fund.” (Now maybe ol’ Root-‘n-Branch can get off his duff and “move on” the black lung compensation fund, a gratuitous swipe, perhaps, yet well played).

But I digress.

McConnell sought to bring the Gillibrand bill to the floor but our boy Rand, as is his wont, blocked consideration utilizing the Senate’s archaic rules. His rationale? It added to the deficit without an accompanying cut elsewhere.

It’s not the first time Paul has acted against the interests of fellow Americans in great need while citing the budget deficit and the national debt. He has opposed at least two disaster aid bills – a $36.5 billion measure in response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and wildfires in California back in 2017 and again back in May when lawmakers adopted a multi-billion dollar package aimed at assisting states devastated by wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding.

“While I support our heroic first responders, I can’t in good conscience vote for legislation which, to my dismay, remains unfunded,” Paul explained in a tweet. “We have a nearly trillion-dollar deficit and $22 trillion in debt. Spending is out of control.”

He added that he will “always take a stand against borrowing more money to pay for programs rather than setting priorities and cutting waste.”

Now one can venture an argument that Paul is taking a principled stand, regardless of the potentially cruel results awaiting victims of 911 and natural disasters. It’s not a particularly good argument – the federal government needs to be there for those suffering from the results of disasters that aren’t their own doing, no questions asked. It exposes an iciness on Paul’s behalf that isn’t particularly appealing.

But while he insists he will “always take a stand against borrowing money to pay for more programs’’ he apparently isn’t opposed to adding to the deficit by dumping potential federal dollars into the garbage in behalf of his corporate pals at the expense of 911 first responders.

In November 2017 Paul wrote an op-ed for Fox News in support of a pending tax cut bill although he expressed reservations – it didn’t go far enough, noting that he offered an amendment to raise the $1.5 trillion cut over 10 years to $2.5 trillion.

“The good news is — we can do this every year,” Paul wrote. “Want a bigger tax cut? Urge your legislators to do one every single year. I’ll sponsor it. Want them to be permanent? Well, one good start is to keep extending them, every single year.”

But there’s a problem, of course – tax cuts add to the deficit and debt that Paul is constantly wailing about and using as a crutch to oppose aid to first responders.

The tax cut package passed in December 2017 and, as expected, the deficit and the debt ballooned. Paul’s support for this abominable tax cut obviously offered significantly more harm to the federal treasury than any combination of 911 relief funds or additional disaster aid.

The deficit grew to $779 billion in fiscal year 2018, a 17 percent jump as a result of, according to the Treasury Department, a sharp decline in corporate tax revenue after the cuts went into effect. What’s more, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center determined that a vast majority of the benefits go to corporations and the top one percent of the nation’s wage earners, not middle-class folks like EMTs in New York City or blue-collar workers in New Orleans.

It should be noted that Gillibrand’s 911 bill and previous disaster aid packages subsequently passed by wide margins, with no thanks to Paul who voted against each and every one. He sought to halt the growth of the deficit and debt that he willingly and avidly contributed to.

Stewart was not amused.

“Pardon me if I’m not impressed in any way by Rand Paul’s fiscal responsibility virtue signaling,” he said. “Rand Paul presented tissue paper avoidance of the $1.5 trillion tax cut that added hundreds of billions of dollars to our deficit. And now he stands up at the last minute, after 15 years of blood, sweat, and tears from the 9/11 community, to say that it’s all over now; now we’re going to balance the budget on the backs of the 9/11 first responder community.”

Yeah, pretty much.

NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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