Look for no white flag from Sen. Ted Cruz’s Obamacare barricade.
As Senate elders grasp the reins of the debate to reopen government and extend the debt limit, Cruz has not budged an inch from the position he made famous weeks ago, when he and his allies spoke on the Senate floor for almost a full day.
“President Obama and the Democrats refuse to negotiate,” Cruz said, exiting a closed-door meeting of Senate Republicans on Saturday. “Republicans in the House are working to fund vital priorities and they’re also working to provide meaningful relief to the millions of people across this country who have lost their jobs, who have lost their health care because of Obamacare.”
Cruz crisply delivered his well-worn statement to a handful of reporters, even as his colleagues flooded the Ohio Clock corridor outside the Senate chamber to deliver another message entirely: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid are now talking, and the House can vote on what the Senate sends it.
Gone is the talk of mini-continuing resolutions and the insistence that Democrats negotiate because, as numerous Republican senators said, those talks are now indeed under way.
“The real conversation that matters now is the one that’s taking place between McConnell and Reid,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
The thinking among Senate Republicans, especially those who disagreed with Cruz’s strategy from the start, is that it’s time to make a deal. Republicans always expected to gain spending or entitlement concessions from the White House over the debt limit, and they’re still hopeful they can achieve a victory.
Republicans are even haggling in public.
“If you asked me if I wanted a six-month CR I’d say we’d probably get there but I’d rather have a 12-month CR,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. “That would be the normal view of our conference. Say a 90-day debt ceiling or I’d rather see a 60-day debt ceiling increase so we can come back and visit that.”
While a proposal from Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., gained early traction and included a delay of a medical-device tax that partially funds Obamacare, the discussion among key Republicans has shifted away from the health care law.
“In the end, Senator McConnell and Senator Reid have to come up with recommendation for us about how to open the government, how to pay our bills by raising the debt limit and how to reduce the debt,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who joined Reid, McConnell, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at a 9 a.m. meeting on Saturday to open the discussion.
Republicans still revile the health care law, but their focus has clearly shifted to whatever leverage they have on the debt ceiling.
“The most important aspect of this is holding the line on spending and getting the appropriations process to work. I’m one who thought we ought to have a budget conference and would like to see that happen,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.
How Cruz will pitch his next battle over the Affordable Care Act is not clear, but he says he’s still telling his colleagues in the House and Senate to continue the iterative process of passing piecemeal continuing resolutions and to focus on undoing the president’s signature legislative achievement.
“That’s what our focus should be and that’s what I’m urging people both privately and publicly to do,” he said.