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House approves 'audit the Fed' bill, marking capstone on Rep. Paul's career

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FILE: April 5, 2012: Rep. Ron Paul speaks in Berkeley, Calif.AP

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, doesn't get his way very often in Congress. 

But the House overwhelmingly adopted his longstanding proposal to audit the Federal Reserve Wednesday, in a 327-98 vote. 

In fact, Paul had joked with fellow lawmakers about being invited to a leadership meeting earlier in the week to discuss his bill. Paul noted he had never before attended such a conclave in his entire congressional career. That career is just about over, as the 77-year-old lawmaker plans to retire at the end of this year after a quarter-century in Congress and three quixotic presidential bids. And the passage of his Fed bill marks a fitting legislative capstone. 

The "audit the Fed" package was a key part of Paul's larger economic vision

The measure's consideration on the House floor shows how Paul's brand of libertarianism has moved from an often-dismissed fringe to the mainstream.

Paul announced in 2011 that he would not seek reelection to his congressional seat while running for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. He ceased campaigning in May and has since returned to the Capitol full-time.

The legislation has no path forward in the Senate. But Paul advocated for increased transparency at the central bank charged with setting interest rates in the same way he has for decades.

"I think when people talk about independence and having this privacy of the central bank means they want secrecy, and secrecy is not good," Paul said during Tuesday floor debate on his bill. "We should have privacy for the individual, but we should have openness of government all the time, and we've drifted a long way from that."

Meanwhile, Democrats like House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., argued a full audit would politicize the Federal Reserve.

"The Fed, like every other major central bank in the world, is independent and Congress has rightly insulated the Fed from short-term political pressures," Hoyer said.

Hoyer declared earlier in the week he would advise Democratic members to vote no. Ninety-seven did. But 89 voted yes, ushering Paul's bill to passage with a comfortable margin.

Paul introduced hundreds of bills during his House tenure -- many of them aimed at weakening the Federal Reserve -- but rarely built coalitions to bring them to the floor.

But Paul's crusade to audit the Fed has found its way in major legislation in the past. In 2010, he won a provision in the Dodd-Frank financial regulation overhaul that required a limited audit of the Federal Reserve.

Republicans lauded Paul's legacy during Tuesday's floor debate.

"I want to ... congratulate Dr. Ron Paul for his tireless work on this issue for many decades," said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich.

"I want to appreciate and congratulate Dr. Ron Paul for his tireless pursuit of openness and transparency. Without his leadership, we wouldn't be at this point today," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

Mitt Romney, Paul's former primary opponent, also lent his support.

"Ron Paul's Audit The Fed bill is a reminder of his tireless efforts to promote sound money and a more transparent Federal Reserve," Romney tweeted July 18.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson, D-Conn., who opposed the measure, said the bill reflected Paul's brand of populism.

"I think that a lot of the angst that occurs out there in the public oftentimes is directed at the Fed. Certainly Ron Paul has become an iconic figure and I think a number of people in their districts at public and town hall forums have heard that similar kind of message," Larson said.

Paul dove into politics when President Nixon eliminated the gold standard for currency in 1971. He had read extensively about the Austrian school of economics, which promotes free markets, individual liberties and currency established by scarce commodities.

He first arrived in Washington after winning an April 1976 special election -- but lost seven months later in the general election by a margin of 268 votes. In 1978, he won the seat by a decisive margin.

Paul first set sights on higher office in 1984 when he launched a failed bid for the Senate. Undaunted, he launched his first presidential bid in 1988, running under the banner of the Libertarian Party.

Paul scored only 0.5 percent of the vote.

In 1996, he returned to the House in a newly drawn district that included areas he had previously represented. Since then, he won reelection handily.

Paul sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and 2012 with a small but highly enthusiastic base. Although he did not secure the nod in either contest, he had turnout strong enough to demonstrate significant support. He placed second in the 2011 Ames Straw Poll, third in the 2012 Iowa caucuses and second in the New Hampshire primary.

But Paul indicated that he placed higher importance on influencing the debate than necessarily winning outright.

"Politicians don't amount to much," Paul once said, "but ideas do."