LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – Kentuckiana's two new U.S. Senators are saying a lot of the same things about the national debt and downsizing government, but one of the Republicans is getting a lot more attention.
They have been on the job for seven weeks.
While Sen. Dan Coats (R-Indiana) is bringing a new perspective to his old job, Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) is a junior senator in a hurry.
"I'm still saying the same thing I said on the campaign trail," Paul quipped in a quick interview before he urged the Kentucky Senate to push for a constitutional convention for a balanced budget amendment.
The difference is, "the debate used to be in Washington about where to spend and now the debate is about where to cut," Paul said.
And Paul is ignoring the tradition of Senate freshmen being seen and not heard. He is speaking out.
"I think people are listening and that I am having some influence," Paul continued, "The question in the campaign was, can one person do anything if they're out there by themselves? I think one person who is loud and committed, I think the debate is coming my direction."
And Paul is reaching out. Not just on the familiar and friendly territory of Fox News, but the Bowling Green eye surgeon has positioned himself as the national Tea Party leader on network news and even -- with David Letterman.
"I noticed that you're wearing jeans," Letterman began poking Paul early in their twelve minute interview on Thursday, "is that typical Kentucky senatorial garb?"
Before a new audience, and in the face of Letterman's suggestions that higher taxes on the wealthy would better address budget shortfalls, Paul made his case for attacking the debt and limiting government.
"I think competition makes us better," Paul repeated, "Think if you didn't have... that guy, what's his name.." referring to Letterman nemesis Jay Leno.
"You know, I think he's wrong about some of these things," Letterman said wrapping up the conversation, "I just can't tell you why."
"I think the Tea Party will continue to influence things," Paul explained in the Kentucky interview, "and I think they need to because really right now the budget proposals by the President and by the Republicans aren't enough, so really the Tea Party needs to push them more."
"The President's budget would add $13 trillion. The Republicans budget probably adds $11 trillion over ten years. And that's unsustainable," Paul said.
In January, just three weeks after taking office, Paul raised eyebrows by proposing $500 billion in spending cuts in one year, including axing entire federal agencies and programs.
His fellow freshman Republican - Indiana's Dan Coats - agrees that the role of government needs to be questioned, but...
"... the $500 billion right off the bat I think is a stretch too far," Coats said, "particularly because it only deals with 12 to 15 percent of the budget."
Coats, back in the U.S. Senate seat twelve years after he left, echoed the theme that entitlements must be trimmed and that he is part of the Tea Party budget cutting crusade.
"I think (the Tea Party is) having a real influence and I'm glad to be a part of it," Coats said.
"We went there, and there was some question about should we cut earmarks or not have earmarks. Freshmen came in unified, basically said, 'Hey, we're done with earmarks," Coats continued.
Speaking about his appointment to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Coats said under GOP control it will hold agencies accountable and "tell them do more with less."
Coats declined to endorse Indiana senior senator Richard Lugar (R) as Lugar faces a Republican Primary challenge from Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R). Mourdock has said that "after 35 years in Washington, Dick Lugar has forgotten what it means to be a Republican. But we haven't."
While Coats surrendered his lobbyist career to reclaim the Senate seat held for twelve years by Democrat Evan Bayh, Paul is hoping to continue some activity as an opthalmologist.
"I would like to," Paul said, "I'm still asking to and the committee so far has not made a ruling in my favor. They haven't said absolutely no, but they are saying their rules do prevent me from seeing patients. And I would like to continue to see patients."
Paul's Tea Party book tour comes to Louisville on Saturday, March 5 at the Summit Barnes and Noble.