Sen. Rand Paul doesn’t like foreign aid — and he’s leveraging high-profile and controversial events in embattled countries to build a piecemeal legislative approach to show it.
The most recent example is Pakistan. The Kentucky Republican would like the U.S. government to cut off aid because of the imprisonment of a Pakistani doctor who helped provide information in the operation that resulted in the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. He introduced a bill Monday to strip all aid until Pakistan commutes the doctor’s 33-year prison sentence. Earlier this year, Paul pushed for an end to foreign aid to Egypt and Iran.
More than any other new member of the Senate GOP Conference, Paul has developed a knack for getting votes on his pet issues, boosted by his symbiotic relationship with Kentucky’s senior Senator, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Well, I think there’s a philosophic way to talk about foreign aid in totality, but there’s also another way, and that is to say, what are particularly egregious things that countries are doing that we give money to?” Paul said in a brief interview this week. “The vast majority of the American public doesn’t like foreign aid, myself included. They dislike it even more intensely when you remind them that the guy that helped us get one of the worst mass murderers in our history, bin Laden, they’re giving money to keep him in prison, and I think Americans are incensed by it.”
Though his amendments have not passed or become law, Paul has been able to use votes on his proposals to build a symbolic case on his broader philosophical goal: eliminating almost all foreign aid.
But he’s also building a record he could use should he choose to run for a higher office. His father, Rep. Ron Paul (R- Texas), a perennial presidential candidate, lists “Stop taking money from the middle class and the poor to give to rich dictators through foreign aid” as part of his platform on his 2012 campaign website.
Asked whether his legislative efforts might, in future elections, provide him with tangible examples backing his rhetoric on the global assistance issue, the Kentucky Senator demurred.
“Maybe. Maybe. But I’m thinking really about the here and now of actually trying to change what’s going on,” Paul said. “What it does in the future, I don’t know.”
Slashing foreign aid has not been a popular political position because the money is seen as an effective way to leverage American power around the world.
Paul, however, has made his distaste for foreign assistance part of his more libertarian approach to governance and his general belief in cutting the deficit by shrinking government.
In a budget he wrote this year, Paul crafted an entire section focused on reducing foreign aid, freezing it at $5 billion in fiscal 2013 — one-sixth of the $30 billion request for foreign aid this year.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.