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Sen. Rand Paul living up to billing as tea party leader

By Bruce Schreiner

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 15 2011 11:12 a.m. MDT

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul was scheduled to be the star attraction at a Friday tea party tax protest in his hometown of Bowling Green.

Since taking office in January, Paul has staked out a role in the national spotlight as a leading tea party advocate in Congress.

The eye surgeon, son of Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, has proposed slashing $500 billion in federal spending. He's also co-sponsoring legislation to revamp Social Security and has proposed constitutional amendments to require a balanced federal budget and limit the number of terms for members of Congress.

"Rand Paul's a new guy, but he's going to get most of what he accomplishes done by forcing change in the others — the presidential candidates who want tea party support, the legislative leadership that wants tea party support," said Stephen Voss, a University of Kentucky political scientist.

Besides his fiscal proposals, Paul dove into foreign policy by seeking to limit the president's authority as commander in chief. He has even discussed his prospects as a potential presidential candidate.

He has found plenty of platforms to promote his limited government and deficit-cutting agenda, including videos on his website and attention-grabbing public appearances.

He snared spots on "The Daily Show" and the "Late Show with David Letterman" — high-profile gigs that politicians crave. He wrote a book presenting his plans to turn the tea party's platform into national policy.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Paul has been on the forefront on issues such as cutting federal spending, addressing the debt and job growth.

"As I've said before, Senator Paul is a lawmaker to watch. He brings a keen intellect and rare passion to the job," McConnell said in an email.

Voss said he sees Paul not as a compromiser, but as a crusader for a staunchly conservative cause.

"He doesn't really fit the profile of a classic backroom legislator who wants to dig into detailed negotiations over policy," Voss said. "His role is going to be to make noise."

Paul has already shown a willingness to take on the powerful in Washington. Sharply critical of President Barack Obama's decision to unleash military force on Libya without congressional approval, Paul proposed limiting the commander in chief's authority. His motion failed on a 90-10 procedural vote.

He proposed cutting the current Federal Aviation Administration budget by $2.8 billion, rolling it back to its 2008 level of $14.7 billion. That proposal was rejected 51-47.

Paul cast the only Senate vote against an amendment to make it a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison for pointing handheld lasers at aircraft. Paul explained that it's a "bad idea" to point lasers at pilots, but said it should be left up to states to decide whether to outlaw such behavior, noting that many already have.

Paul also is flirting with the idea of running for president, if his father skips next year's race. The first-year senator recently spoke at an Iowa Republican Party event called "Night of the Rising Stars," which put Paul in the spotlight in the state that's home to the nation's first presidential caucuses.

Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Dan Logsdon said Paul has set his political sights well beyond Kentucky.

"He's spent more time trying to raise his national profile ... than focusing on the needs of Kentucky," Logsdon said.

"Most freshmen senators spend ... their time trying to learn the place and forge coalitions. He's spent his time courting national Republicans and doing the book tour, and that's sad."

Paul's aggressive start may not yield many legislative victories in the coming year and a half, Voss said.

"I expect that by the time his first Congress is done, he won't really have accomplished that much of what he promised he would try to accomplish," Voss said. "But realistically, he wouldn't have. Nobody thinks a single senator out of 100 is going to be able to do very much."

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