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In the House Republican Conference, Rep. Ron Paul is untouchable.
For a Member who operates as a loner and has ignored his leadership’s directives for years, the Texas Republican is given an amount of leeway rarely allocated to rank-and-file Members, let alone those who stand to hold positions of power in the House.
But most Members don’t have the massive Libertarian following Paul has maintained since his unsuccessful bid for president in 2008.
The most recent evidence of his unusual status came last week, when he was appointed chairman of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology. The subcommittee oversees Paul’s nemesis, the Federal Reserve, among other things.
It’s not that Paul doesn’t have the seniority for the post; he is, in fact, the longest-serving Member on the subcommittee.
But some Republicans questioned whether he would receive the position after he refused to sign the Republican earmark moratorium last March and requested 41 projects totaling more than $100 million for his Congressional district.
At the time, one GOP leadership aide said, “if Members are deliberately breaking the rules, it will be a serious matter and one that the Steering Committee will consider.”
For most Members, this would merit at least a stern talking-to, if not a harsher punishment.
“If you are Ron Paul or if you are Jeff Flake or somebody like that, that has your own, let’s say, power base outside of this town that is independent of this town, I think leadership has to be careful with you,” one Member said.
Another Member agreed that Paul’s following insulated him but noted the subcommittee may not have a central role in major legislation in the 112th Congress.
“It may have annoyed them, but they didn’t hold it against me,” Paul told Roll Call, when asked about his decision to request projects in spite of the ban.
Paul told Roll Call that party leaders were well aware of his stance on earmarks when he refused to support the GOP moratorium because of his belief in increased transparency. With publicly disclosed earmarks, the public can see where federal dollars are being allocated.
Republicans passed an extension of the moratorium that bans the practice for the 112th Congress. “The Congress should have a say in how the money is spent,” he said, noting that he votes against the spending bills as a whole. “Congress should be the most important branch of the government. Not the executive branch.”
As Paul spoke, his friend Rep. Walter Jones Jr. walked silently next to him. The North Carolina Republican had a different experience with leadership several years ago, when he was denied a subcommittee gavel on the House Armed Services Committee because he had expressed his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.