Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is a rare congressman: Trained as a physician, he served in Congress briefly in 1976, and then from 1978 to 1984. In 1988, he ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket, garnering over 400,000 votes. In 1996, over the objections of the Republican leadership, he ran for Congress again, handily winning both the primary and general elections.
But what makes Paul especially unusual is this: He takes the Constitution's limits on federal power seriously. Before voting on a piece of legislation, he submits it to a two-part test. First, he asks if the program is actually authorized by the Constitution. If it is, he then consults his campaign promises, which include pledges to never raise taxes or increase spending. Suffice it to say that Paul votes nay on a regular basis. In February, Washington Editor Michael W. Lynch talked with Paul about the upcoming session in Congress.
Q: What do you think is the most important issue before this Congress?
A: Whether we expand the size of government or shrink it. And there's a 99.9 percent chance that it will expand. We'll go up in taxes; we'll go up in regulations; and we'll see a continued attack on our personal liberties. There's been no reversal in those trends. I think spending is going to go up tremendously. But there will be a "compromise": Conservative will get their type of spending, and liberals will get theirs.
Q: Do you see anyone among your colleagues working to reduce government?
A: I think there's a good group here, particularly those who were elected in 1994, but I don't think their voices are being heard. The combination of big government Republicans and Democrats makes it pretty easy to expand the role of government.
Here's a good example of how that works. The easiest program to attack for Republicans in 1994-95 was the National Endowment for the Arts. The Republican constituency hates it. But nothing gets done because 30 percent to 40 percent of the Republicans love it. They get together with the Democrats and nothing happens. That's not an exception to the rule. That's the way Congress operates.
Q: How does your two-part legislative test affect your ability to do deals?
A: I just don't do them. For instance, last year with the highway bill, a [transportation committee staffer] called and said, "You have $34 million for your district: tell us how you want to spend it." To me, that sounded like we were getting the $34 million we paid into the system back, so I told them what our projects were. The vote came up, and I voted against the bill because it was breaking the budget. When the conference bill came out, the money for my district was removed, except for maybe $6 million. So, I lost the [$28 million] bonus I could have gotten for voting for the bill. That's sort of a legislative line-item veto that committee chairmen have. That's the way the presidential line-item veto would have worked too–not to reduce spending, but to pressure politicians into spending more. Your projects will be deleted if you don't vote for more spending.