Last week — while most people attuned to politics were paying attention to the Republican presidential primary debate and the latest Donald Trump sound bite — Congress approved a $1.1 trillion tax and spending package, averting a government shutdown and funding federal agencies through the fall of next year.

For many, that bill and others like it represent everything that is wrong with Washington. The 2,009-page bill — full of government spending programs — was released to the public 48 hours before Congress voted it. Under regular order, Congress would have deliberated each piece of the funding package individually.

With little fanfare, it cleared the House by a 316-113 vote, then the Senate by a 65-33 tally.

Of the entire Alabama congressional delegation, Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) and Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) were the only two “yes” votes.

While it was expected Sewell would vote with her party, one would think Aderholt should be denounced for his vote for legislation that “goes against conservative values.”

But it was Aderholt who cast one of the most honest votes of any of the Alabama congressional Republicans.

Following Friday’s vote, Sen. Richard Shelby, who is up for re-election next year, put out a statement feigning moral outrage over what he deemed to be a “blank check” given to the White House.

“Today I once again said ‘no’ to handing over a blank check to President Obama with this 2,000-page, trillion-dollar spending bill filled with liberal victories. Not only does this fiscally irresponsible bill allow the President to continue his dangerous Syrian refugee resettlement plan, it does nothing to stop funding for lawless sanctuary cities that protect criminal illegal immigrants. It also does nothing to end taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. Simply put, this bill represents a victory for President Obama and his liberal allies — not for the American people.”

You tell ‘em, Sen. Shelby! Thank you for not letting those pinko commies run roughshod over the country without putting up a fight and raising a fuss in protest.

If only that were the case.

Before voting “no” on the omnibus last week, Shelby larded up the bill with other pet projects for the state. Among those pet projects was a measure worth hundreds of millions to rocket manufacturer United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing that has a massive operation in Decatur, Alabama, employing roughly 800 people.

The problem is, the ULA uses Russian-made engines, and lawmakers had wanted to phase out the use of those Russian-built engines as a way to punish the Russian government for invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea.

That drew the ire of Shelby’s colleague, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), who on a number of occasions took to the media to criticize Shelby. 

However, aside from the geopolitical ramifications of what Shelby did, it doesn’t seem like something a bona fide, rock-ribbed conservative would use his position as a senior member on the Senate Appropriations Committee to insert language for the sake of a business interest in his home state.

For whatever reason, Shelby seems to be worried about his re-election bid coming up next year, at least as far as winning the Republican Party’s nod to run in the general election for the seat he occupies.

For this election cycle, Alabama’s senior senator is trying to portray himself as the second coming of Glenn Beck, which seems very awkward for a nearly 29-year member of the U.S. Senate who would buck ideology if it meant securing a federal grant for a Dairy Queen on McFarland Boulevard in Tuscaloosa.

Last week, many Alabamians received a flyer in the mail picturing Shelby alongside Sen. Jeff Sessions headlined “Alabama’s Conservative Fighters” and urging recipients to vote in the March 1 GOP primary.

I suppose you could do a lot worse than having to ride the coattails of your state’s junior senator to re-election.

Shelby, or someone on behalf of Shelby’s campaign, lobbied earlier this year for shorter Republican ballot qualification periods and higher qualification fees, which would have made it harder for anyone to put up opposition to Shelby on the Republican side.

Nonetheless, it didn’t deter four other candidates — John Martin, Shadrack McGill, Jonathan McConnell and Marcus Bowman — from qualifying to be on the Alabama Republican primary ballot for the U.S. Senate.

Even with a crowded field, would anyone seriously bet against Shelby’s winning streak of five U.S. senatorial elections, and a nine-time congressional election winning streak if you include his four terms as a member of the House from 1979 through 1986?
There seems to be something missing here.  

Is Shelby seriously worried about not winning re-election or the possibility of a repeat of what happened in Mississippi during the 2014 midterm election cycle with incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi) and his upstart opposition, State Sen. Chris McDaniel? Cochran barely hung on to win his party’s nod before sailing through to win the general election. 

The other possibility is that Shelby wants to hold onto as much of his war chest as possible through this election. According to the Center for Responsive Politics website OpenSecrets, Shelby is sitting on more than $19 million in campaign cash and another $4.5 million in his leadership PAC. 

It’s difficult to imagine Shelby will need to spend $24.5 million to win re-election over the next 11 months. So there should be some amount of that money remaining headed into 2022, the next time Shelby would be up for re-election, and by then he would be 88 years old.

Whatever the reason for Shelby’s intensive re-election bid, it’s disingenuous for him to portray himself as some sort of uber-conservative Tea Party candidate.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to not be a Tea Party candidate. Shelby has done a lot for the state and there are a number of buildings named in his honor to prove it.

Otherwise, this effort to be something Shelby isn’t is nothing less than cringeworthy.