Listen up, Senate Republicans. Sen. Ted Cruz has some advice on how to win the defund-Obamacare fight in the Senate this week, and it's a little counterintuitive.
The Texas Republican is advising his Republican colleagues to filibuster the House's continuing resolution—the very resolution he wants to become law.
The House passed a bill Friday to keep government funded past the Sept. 30 deadline that included language that defunds the Affordable Care Act. Cruz is applying some conventional wisdom, assuming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will strip the language defunding Obamacare as he has promised, using a simple majority in the Senate after reaching the 60-vote cloture threshold to end debate.
"If Reid pursues this plan—if he insists on using a 50-vote threshold to fund Obamacare with a partisan vote of only Democrats—then I hope that every Senate Republican will stand together and oppose cloture on the bill in order to keep the House bill intact and not let Harry Reid add Obamacare funding back in," Cruz said in a statement.
Reid slammed the idea, taunted Cruz, and kicked dust in the eyes of other Republicans who have called Cruz's gambit unworkable.
"I have said it before, but it seems to bear repeating: The Senate will not pass any bill that defunds or delays Obamacare," Reid said. "I am glad to see more and more of my moderate Republican colleagues speaking up against the vocal, irrational minority within their ranks."
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., for example, criticized Cruz this week for pushing the issue, knowing President Obama and Senate Democrats would block any attempt to undo the law.
Conservative outside groups, though, have rallied to Cruz's side and embraced his understanding of how Reid will proceed on the continuing resolution. Heritage Action called for lawmakers to vote no on striking language to defund Obamacare.
"If opponents of Obamacare unite against Reid's procedural power play by denying cloture, the language defunding Obamacare will remain intact, proving that the Senate cannot move a CR that funds Obamacare," according to Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler in a statement.
Cruz was not the most popular lawmaker in Washington this week. After spending the summer urging colleagues to stand against funding Obamacare, which was exactly what House Republicans finally proposed (and did on Friday), Cruz pointed out that Senate Republicans did not have the votes to hold the line against Reid and the Democrats.
This infuriated some Republican lawmakers in the House who felt as if Cruz, after whipping outside groups and conservative voters into a frenzy, was abandoning his own cause. Cruz, apparently sensing this, then ladled praise on House Republicans, including Speaker John Boehner, after Friday's vote.
"This is a victory for House conservatives, and it is a victory for Speaker Boehner and Republican leadership," Cruz said.
But Cruz is likely not finished chafing his fellow conservatives. Knowing that a number of his Senate colleagues—13 by a Democratic count—oppose his approach, he is calling on them to vote with him to filibuster the very measure that conservatives want to see passed into law (despite a White House veto threat).
"Now is a time for party unity; Senate Republicans should stand side-by-side with courageous House Republicans," Cruz said.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a Cruz ally, thinks the public's opposition to Obamacare will help persuade Democrats to oppose the president's signature health care law. "If the American people make their voices heard now and start contacting Senate Democrats, I truly believe that, along with a unified Senate Republican Caucus, we will convince enough Democrats to finally do the right thing for the country," Lee said.
What precisely Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and many other Senate Republicans will do is unclear. If they vote for cloture, they can argue they voted in favor of the House conservatives' bill, which defunds the Affordable Care Act. But Cruz would argue that a vote for cloture is a vote for Reid to strip the defunding language.
A Senate Republican aide cast the issue this way: "Look, it's really a sales job for Cruz and Lee."
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This article appears in the September 23, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.