Sen. Paul's credibility gap: Release hold on refugee benefits

Why put refugee benefits on hold?

October 6, 2011 

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul


Sen. Rand Paul was in the news last week for single-handedly blocking a pipeline safety bill that had bipartisan and industry support.

He's in the news again this week for single-handedly blocking benefits to refugees who are in this country legally but are too disabled or old to work.

In the case of the 5,600 elderly or disabled refugees, there also is a bipartisan deal to pay for their benefits. A $30 fee on foreign nationals applying for some visas would offset the cost and, Democrats say, trim the deficit by $24 million.

The measure was set to be approved by voice vote Tuesday, until Paul objected.

Politico reports Paul said he's concerned the money would go to domestic terrorists such as the alleged Iraqi terrorists who settled in Bowling Green through a refugee program and were receiving government benefits.

The flaw in Paul's thinking is that cutting off benefits to elderly and disabled refugees who have lived here for years won't improve the screening of people entering the country now. The programs are different and have different funding streams, something Paul could easily have learned.

The refugees who, without congressional action, are going to start losing their average $670 monthly checks, were admitted to this country on humanitarian grounds. They include victims of torture and human trafficking and allies who risked themselves to help U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia. To put them out on the streets would be a new low even for Congress.

Non-citizens are normally ineligible for Supplemental Security Income, but Congress made an exception for this group who are elderly, blind or disabled. They face a cut-off because the 1996 welfare reforms gave them seven years to achieve citizenship or lose SSI. It's been impossible for many to prepare for or pass the citizenship test because of their age and health. Delays in processing green cards have caused some to miss the deadline.

The benefits were extended during the last Bush administration, and 99 of the 100 senators were ready to approve another extension.

Likewise, there was near unanimous support for the pipeline safety bill.

When Paul blocked it last week his spokeswoman said he "doesn't think new regulations and the creation of dozens of bureaucratic positions should be swept through without sufficient debate and vote." More recently, Paul has said he's concerned the new regulations won't apply to older pipelines such as the one that exploded in California last year, killing eight people. He was planning to meet Wednesday with federal officials who investigated that explosion.

It seems unlikely that Paul could push through tougher rules than those supported by most of the Senate, especially while beating back the bureaucracy. Nothing would stop him from pushing in the future for even stronger protections. But for now the pipeline safety bill awaiting a vote would be far better than the status quo.

What we have here are yet two more examples of Kentucky's freshman senator being so dazzled by his own agenda that he loses sight of political reality and the effects of his actions on flesh and blood human beings.

How many more of these displays can Paul afford before he loses any effectiveness or credibility with his colleagues — and where would that leave Kentucky?

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