If Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) wanted to divide the GOP and put House Republicans in an impossible position, he’s already succeeded.
The junior senator, along with Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and right-wing groups like Heritage Action and FreedomWorks, spent all summer rousing the GOP base for a fight to defund Obamacare. He’s convinced the Tea Party (and no one else) and compelled House Republicans to vote to defund the Affordable Care Act.
He’s won! And now he would be in an ideal situation to defund Obamacare — if only he had 60 votes in the Senate and a president willing to sign his bill.
But of course, he doesn’t. 🙁
So now Cruz’s bill is about to hit the Senate. For months, he has been selling the GOP base on a simple and false premise: Obamacare could be ended today if the Republican leadership would just do it.
Since there simply aren’t enough Republicans in Congress to make that happen, Cruz’s message really is: If we absolutely refuse to compromise, if we shut down the government, if we refuse to raise the debt limit, if we hold our breath till the economy turns blue, we can get anything we want without even having to win presidential elections.
The truth is, Republican leaders don’t seem to want a shutdown for even a day — and they know that Cruz’s plan would destroy the GOP before it destroys Obamacare.
With just about a week before the government is set to shut down, Cruz is in a battle with House Republicans for who will get the blame when this ridiculous plan eventually fails. Here’s how the scenario is likely to play out:
Because Democrats control the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will is set to make the House’s bill that funds the government and defunds the Affordable Care Act “fully debatable on both ends.”
That means it will require 60 votes heading into the Senate and 60 votes going out for it to pass.
There are 54 senators caucusing with the Democrats, so at least six Republicans will have to join with the majority to open debate on the bill. That likely won’t be a big deal since the bill is what the GOP wants as it enters the Senate.
Then Reid will allow amendments to the bill that only require 51 votes to pass. So, with a simple majority, Democrats will remove the part that defunds the president’s signature legislative accomplishment. Some Democrats will pressure Reid to advance another amendment to restore the sequester cuts to research and social services. He’ll likely skip that since passing it would give Republicans something to use to blame Democrats in case of a shutdown.
So now the bill no longer defunds Obamacare. What will Ted Cruz do then?
He will try to filibuster the bill he demanded as it leaves the Senate for final passage. If he screams “RINO!” loud enough to get 41 Republicans to stick with him, he may be able to pull off a Rand Paul-style talking filibuster that could last through October 1, when the government is scheduled to shut down.
At that point, Obamacare exchanges will be open, even if the government isn’t. But it doesn’t matter. Cruz has to fight with everything he’s got. If he gives any impression he’s surrendering, as he did last week when he admitted he didn’t have enough votes in the Senate, House Republicans will tear him apart — because they know what’s coming next.
Democrats will likely be able to either scrape together the six Republicans they need to pass the bill — which is still a huge victory for Republicans because it cuts all kinds of stuff for poor people and scientists. More likely, as many as two dozen Republicans will join with Democrats to give themselves cover against Cruz’s faction of the GOP, which has been compared by Senate aides to the Cobra Kai team in Karate Kid.
So the bill comes back to the House without the defunding Obamacare part, and now we’re days from a government shutdown.
What then? Cruz — who has apparently appointed himself Speaker of the House — has already said that he expects the House to trigger a partial shutdown by only voting for a bill that funds the military past September 30.
“What Cruz is really doing here is coming up with another way to blame anyone but himself for the ultimate failure of his scheme,” explains The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent. “If House Republican leaders don’t agree to this piecemeal strategy later, they’re selling out conservatives!!!”
Of course, House Republicans can ignore what Cruz wants and just vote to take their victory and move on. If that happens and Cruz has made an effective spectacle of trying to pass the bill in the House, he can likely use the GOP base’s rage to turn it against House Republicans right as they need to vote on an even more important bill — one that raises the debt ceiling.
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) effectively put the burden of defunding Obamacare on Cruz. If Cruz can return the favor, Boehner may have to risk his job to vote on a bill that represents huge concessions by Democrats.
Will Boehner risk his job to save his party? It really depends on how much outrage Ted Cruz can generate against his own colleagues in the House.
Either way, Obamacare is still going into effect, and an economic recovery that is too slow and too limited gets another crisis it doesn’t need.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com