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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.
Asked if his support base had helped him keep his position, Paul smiled and said he didn’t know, but he was sure his fans would have been unhappy if he was slighted.
“Yeah, they would be upset,” he said, adding that the anti-federal government sentiment also played a role in his prominence in the Conference. “Momentum has a lot to do with it.”
Paul supporters are as numerous as they are vocal.
At the February 2010 meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, supporters crowded into the ballroom of the Marriott Wardman Park, making Paul’s speech one of the most well-attended. He went on to win CPAC’s annual presidential straw poll with 31 percent of the vote, beating out party heavyweights such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. And more than 90,000 people have “liked” the Facebook site “Ron Paul 2012.”
Paul supporters have also spoken enthusiastically with their wallets.
After raising tens of millions of dollars for his presidential run, Paul still has a campaign war chest of nearly $2 million — quite a cushion for a lawmaker who was re-elected with 76 percent.
While Paul may not vote with Republicans — he has been, on more than one occasion, one of the few Republicans to vote with Democrats on issues such as the war or some social issues — political operatives at the National Republican Congressional Committee said he has been the consummate team player financially.
In the 2008 cycle, Paul transferred $54,000 to the NRCC. He more than doubled that amount in the 2010 cycle, transferring $135,000 from his campaign account. That does not include Paul’s direct donation to other candidates.
Paul has taken his unique power and the attention he has received in stride, saying the message he has touted for decades is finally catching on in Washington.
“Although [other lawmakers] denied it for years, the movement has been there,” he said.
“After however many years, the sentiment is anti-federalism.” He added, “My ideas suddenly aren’t so out there.”