Rand Paul Announces He's Giving Back $600,000 to Treasury: But is He Actually Doing Anything Special?

For the second year in a row, Rand Paul (R–Ky.) gave back a large chunk of his operating budget to the Treasury to make a tiny chip in the national debt. And on Wednesday, he held a press conference in Louisville, complete with a giant novelty check to make sure everyone knew about it. While the libertarian-leaning senator may seem to be putting his money where is mouth is when it comes to fiscal responsibility, this isn’t actually all that uncommon. Paul is just looking for attention.

“It’s the only budget I control,” Paul said at a Louisville, Ky., news conference while standing in front of an over-sized check for $600,000, or 20% of his total operating budget. "It’s not enough, but it’s a start. We are frugal from top to bottom.”

This year’s check, plus his $500,000 from last year makes $1.1 million Paul has given back to the Treasury with the request that they put it towards the federal debt, which now stands at over $16 trillion.

While this seems like a step toward progress, it’s actually unusual for congressmen not to give back at least a portion of their operating budget every year, and many are giving back a whole lot more than Paul.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R–Ala.), for instance, has given back 40% of his operating budget — or $1.2 million a year — for quite some time. But you didn’t see Shelby holding a press conference with an Publisher's Clearinghouse-size check screaming for people to love him.

But his trick worked. Pretending like you’re the only person that does something gets you a lot of attention — like that girl in middle school who started wearing a bra and talking about it really loudly in the hallway.

Because, as soon as Paul came out with this news, everyone was asking what was wrong with everyone else. The answer is nothing — because a lot of people do this. 

Maybe someone should tell Greta Van Susteren, who posted this blogpost-length headline about it yesterday: “If Senator Rand Paul can do it and did it, why can’t the other 99 US Senators and 435 Members of Congress (and all the committees???) And yes, this could be headlined ‘what is wrong with Washington!’”

Yes. That was a headline.

Someone should also tell WND’s Garth Kant, who led his story on Paul’s announcement with this gem: “It’s a man-bites-dog story. It’s about the world upside-down. It’s about the most unexpected surprise ever. Like a lottery. It’s about an American politician giving money back to the government!”

You can’t see me, but I’m rolling my eyes really hard right now.

When Paul first made news last year about giving money back, Politico came out with a report that indicated that, in their words, this “isn’t special.” In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) returned 34.3% of his budget; Jim Risch (R-Idaho) returned 25.1%; Sheldon Whitehouse (D–R.I.) returned 23.6% and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) returned 23.5%. Then, last year the whole House voted to cut everyone’s operating budgets by about $75,000

Perhaps Van Susteren and Kant should learn to file public information requests — or at least read the news. 

A few days before Paul made his announcement and offered his jumbo check, he said he would make the decision on whether or not he should run in 2016 next year. So, all of this showboating seems more like a call for attention rather than a call for actual change. I, for example, would now bet the equivalent of his giveback he’ll be using this on the campaign trail three years from now. 

Sure, more people should be more like Paul (or should I say, more like Shelby, Akaka, Risch, Whitehouse and Enzi and the entire House of Representatives) and give back big chunks of their operating budgets. It really would make a big difference. But Paul also shouldn’t continue to pretend like he’s doing something special.

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Jessica Huseman

Jessica wrote for Mic.com until Feb. 2014. Now she's an investigative reporter at The Teacher Project, writing articles on K12 education for Slate.com. Her work has appeared in ProPublica, The Atlantic, Slate, The Dallas Morning News and Chalkbeat and more. Find her contact info and her recent work at www.jessicalhuseman.com.

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