Rand Paul says he hates the budget deal and arrived back in Washington on Thursday to register his protest with a good, old fashioned filibuster.
“It is horrible, it’s hard for me not to use profanity describing it,” Paul told an audience at a campaign stop Tuesday at the University of Colorado’s Denver campus.
But Paul’s ability to stall or block the budget deal is actually pretty limited by Senate rules, which don’t allow for the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style filibusters of popular imagination. The best Paul can hope for is to make a lot of noise, and delay the bill until about 1a.m. on Friday morning. Unless he can get 40 of his colleagues to join him in opposing the legislation, which isn’t likely to happen.
So instead, Paul opted to speak on the Senate floor for about 20 minutes on Thursday afternoon and continue to protest by working to get 40 of his colleagues to join his cause.
“Sen. Paul has been and continues to filibuster the unlimited debt limit increase,” a spokesman for Paul said in an email. “Tonight at 1:00 am, the Majority Leader will attempt to end Sen. Paul’s filibuster with a cloture vote. If 41 Senators stand with Sen. Paul, the filibuster will continue.”
What the Paul spokesman didn’t say is that those votes aren’t likely to materialize. At the moment, it appears there are at least 60 votes to advance the bill. The Senate could vote to cut off debate on the legislation shortly after midnight.
Before then, Paul and anyone else who doesn’t like the agreement can take to the floor to bash the bill, but they can’t stop it from passing.
At around 2:45 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, Paul took to the floor, charts in tow, to air his grievances with the deal.
The House on Wednesday easily passed the bill and later that day Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took the procedural steps needed to set up a cloture vote as soon as possible. That would be around 1 a.m., unless there is unanimous agreement to cut debate short and hold it earlier.
Paul could mess with any attempt to move up the vote, which would allow him more time to highlight his problems with the bill and, just maybe, get some attention for his presidential campaign. Fellow presidential candidates Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also oppose the deal, while Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he will vote for the bill.
Republicans leaving a regularly scheduled lunch on Thursday said they expect to complete both the procedural vote and final passage of the budget deal in the early hours of Friday.
“I think it shouldn’t be too long after midnight,” Republican Conference Chairman Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said. “Rand, Ted and a few others I think are coming back.”
A late-night vote might not be fun, but it would allow senators to catch early morning flights and force opponents of the deal to either get their objections done early or make their speeches in the middle of the night when no one is watching.
“Maybe they would decide it would be better to speak when people are actually paying attention,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas).
The deal was unveiled earlier this week and was brokered by former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the White House.
Congress is under pressure to move the bill quickly because the Treasury Department estimates the government will reach its borrowing limit on Nov. 3. The legislation would suspend the debt limit through 2017 and provide $80 billion in new discretionary spending over two years, which would be offset by mandatory spending cuts and new revenue.
In the case of the budget deal, Paul was unlikely to even be able to replicate the 11-hour protest he held earlier this year over reauthorizing the Patriot Act. That’s because Paul was in Colorado preparing for the Republican presidential debate when McConnell (R-Ky.) established the procedure for considering the budget deal, which set up the 1 a.m. Friday vote.
Paul could try to spend the rest of Thursday on the Senate floor explaining his opposition, yeilding for questions and comments from fellow opponents, like Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).
Cruz has said that he will oppose the agreement and cancelled campaign events he had scheduled on Thursday in order to return to Washington for votes.
“This deal in Washington is an example of why Washington’s broken,” Cruz said Wednesday at the GOP debate. “Republican leadership joined with every single Democrat, add $80 trillion to our debt to do nothing to fix the problems.”