Without any fanfare, 166 House Republicans voted to fund Obamacare on Wednesday.
The next day, 17 Republican senators did the same thing.
The belief that voting to fund the government means you are endorsing every single program the government funds is a new phenomenon in American politics, popularized by one man — Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).
The junior senator from Texas entered the upper house of Congress when the Republican Party had hit rock bottom, after losing the presidency twice to Barack Obama and blowing its second consecutive chance to regain control of the Senate. Things were so bad the party quickly raised the debt limit with no substantial demands, then went as far as speaking publicly about “rebranding” and attempting to appeal to “minorities.”
Senator Cruz wasn’t about to let that happen.
He seized on the fear of a House Speaker who nearly lost his gavel in a coup and a Senate Minority Leader who was facing a Tea Party primary challenge that could cost him his career — right as the party faced a third chance to retake the majority.
With the help of outside groups like the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, Cruz toured the country announcing his plan to shut down the government over Obamacare, then blame the president for the shutdown.
The idea of holding the government hostage wasn’t unique to Cruz. House Republicans had done that with the debt limit in 2011. What was new was the idea that anyone who eventually agreed to keep the government open without forcing a newly re-elected president to give up his signature accomplishment was a RINO, a liberal and Neville Chamberlain in Munich all rolled into one. He helped embolden the party’s base, which forced Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to turn against immigration reform — his one legislative achievement and the GOP’s only significant act of outreach in years to minorities who aren’t George Zimmerman.
Cruz’s plot won over the House GOP’s so-called “suicide caucus,” and Republicans stood together for 17 days without funding the government — then it crumbled within a few hours.
By the end of the shutdown, Republicans had reached new levels of unpopularity and briefly seemed in danger of losing their gift-wrapped-by-gerrymandering House majority. Luckily for the GOP, the briefly disastrous rollout of the Obamacare online exchanges wiped the shutdown’s hangover from the news. However, the unpopularity lingered, putting the party in a fundraising slump it still hasn’t broken out of.
So when it came time to vote on a two-year budget agreement negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ted Cruz and the outside groups that champion him warned Republicans that they’d better not vote for it or they’re gonna get it, somehow, some way. You just watch!
The budget passed easily, but before it came time to fill in the actual numbers and fund that budget, Cruz demanded a vote to defund Obamacare. The senator’s spokesTwitterer summed up what happened:
Cruz asked for a vote to defund Obamacare and fund military pensions. Denied. Couldn’t even get a VOTE on it.
— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) January 16, 2014
LOL. How the mighty have fallen.