Why Ron Paul left South Carolina to take part in a 'charade'

Ron Paul left campaigning in South Carolina so he could vote to oppose Congress raising the debt limit. The resolution has no chance of passing, but for Paul it is a core issue.

David Goldman/AP
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, speaks during a campaign stop Tuesday in Rock Hill, S.C.

Where is Ron Paul?

On the eve of the final debate of the South Carolina primary, Congressman Paul wasn’t barnstorming the state, like his rivals in the Republican presidential primary.  

Instead, he headed back to Washington to lend his voice to a resolution certain to have no impact – not the first lost cause for a lawmaker known in the House for his lone dissenting votes.

It’s all but impossible for the GOP-controlled House to block President Obama’s request for a  $1.2 trillion hike in the national debt limit. Paul said as much when he took to the floor on Wednesday to back a resolution of disapproval.

“We’re here today to try to prevent the national debt from going up another $1.2 trillion, but in a way it’s a formality, because most people know that the national debt is going up $1.2 trillion,” he said, in the same measured tone he has used to admonish his colleagues on limited government since coming to the House in 1976.

In effect, this battle was lost on Aug. 1, when 174 Republicans joined Democrats in backing the Budget Control Act, which laid out a path to take the nation back from the brink of the first-ever default on the national debt. It allows the president to raise the debt limit $1.2 trillion on his own, unless Congress passes a resolution of disapproval with veto-proof two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate. If Congress fails to pass a motion of disapproval, the debt ceiling will increase on Jan. 27.

But for Paul, this vote – and the GOP presidential race – is also an opportunity to make a case for less government and, over time, build support for a more limited view of government.

“The crisis we’re in has been building for a long period of time, and it’s very bipartisan,” Paul said. “We used to be able to get away with it, but now we’re nonproductive. The good jobs are overseas and the spending is increasing exponentially.”

“We need to stop the spending,” he added. “I believe we’re in denial here in the Congress. If we had the vaguest idea how serious this crisis is financially for us and the rest of the world, we would stop the spending.”

Democrats called the resolution a charade, a pretense and a sham. “This legislation is to pay bills that we’ve already incurred,” said House minority whip Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland on the floor of the House. “Whether it was incurred with your votes or our votes, we have incurred those expenses.”

Rep. Jeff Flake (R) of Arizona, who, like Paul, often breaks with Democrats and his own party on spending issues, conceded on the floor that even the controversial budget proposed by House Budget Chair Paul Ryan, which House Republicans passed in 2011, would have required hikes in the national debt limit to avoid default.

The resolution of disapproval "is a charade," he said during Wednesday's floor debate. "But at least we had a discussion."

The measure of disapproval passed the House on a near party line vote, 239 to 176 – well short of the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a presidential veto. The Senate takes up the measure next week, where it is expected to fail.

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