The new McConnell

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. Herald-Leader

The last time he was up for re-election, Sen. Mitch McConnell ran as an unabashed bearer of pork, proud of bringing home hundreds of millions of federal dollars to all parts of Kentucky for all kinds of projects, both public and private.

This time around he's saying . . . send it back?

McConnell's office put out a press release this week announcing that the Senate's Republican leader had joined Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, in introducing the Returned Exclusively for Unpaid National Debt (REFUND) Act.

The press release says it allows states to identify and — get this — "return unwanted federal funds to the Treasury to help pay down our deficits and debt."

We don't have to explain why a debt-reduction strategy based on the states returning "unwanted" federal money is ridiculous.

Like other Tea Party-inspired moves, this one has some symbolic appeal to the haters of government but no actual consequence in the real world. During his last campaign, McConnell bragged of bringing home $195 million in earmarks for Kentucky in 2008 alone.

It says a lot about the change in Republican politics since then: The man who once promised to use his seniority to "bring home funding" is now so afraid of a primary challenge from the right that he's reduced to this kind of inconsequential gimmickry.