On Anti-Obamacare Efforts, All Eyes Are On Cruz

The freshman senator has lead the charge against Obamacare, but the stakes are now higher

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks towards the Senate Chamber after the weekly Senate Republican Policy Committee luncheon September 24, 2013 on Capitol Hill.
National Journal
Billy House Tim Alberta and Michael Catalini
Sept. 28, 2013, 12:34 p.m.

With three days un­til a gov­ern­ment shut­down, House Re­pub­lic­ans are hand­ing the anti-Obama­care bat­on back to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen­ate con­ser­vat­ives, who cham­pioned the long-shot ef­fort from the start.

The House is ex­pec­ted to pass a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion that funds the gov­ern­ment through mid-Decem­ber, delays Obama­care for a year and re­peals a med­ic­al device tax, but Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id of Nevada prom­ises his cham­ber will re­ject the le­gis­la­tion.

Wheth­er Cruz will mount an­oth­er at­ten­tion-grabbing speech — he spoke for hours last week — is un­clear at this point. His of­fice says he has not re­viewed the House bill yet and is with­hold­ing com­ment un­til then. But some House Re­pub­lic­ans are clearly look­ing to Cruz to pick up the fight he star­ted over the sum­mer with Sen­ate Demo­crats once again.

“This is a great way to give an­oth­er chance, to give our Sen­ate con­ser­vat­ives an­oth­er chance to point out “¦ we con­tin­ue to win on the is­sue polit­ic­ally,” said Rep. Tim Huel­skamp, R-Kan­sas.

Rep. John Flem­ing, R-La., said the House’s second CR pro­pos­al should serve as a wake-up call to Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans.

“It’s very in­ter­est­ing, many of them didn’t help us with the clo­ture vote,” he said. “But when they see the re­solve that’s com­ing from the House … I think you’re go­ing to see a lot more pulling our way and the way of Ted Cruz.”

As for the Texas sen­at­or him­self, who has been al­tern­at­ively revered and re­viled by House Re­pub­lic­ans over the last two weeks, Flem­ing said: “I think Ted Cruz has been huge. He’s cre­ated a ral­ly­ing point around which Re­pub­lic­ans have pulled and the na­tion has pulled. … When this thing gets back to the Sen­ate, there are go­ing to be a lot more sen­at­ors over there who have not been with Cruz who are go­ing to give that some second thought.”

Rep. Steve Scal­ise, R-La., chair­man of the Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee, said he ex­pects Cruz and his con­ser­vat­ive com­rades in the up­per cham­ber to fin­ish what the House has star­ted.

“I think you’re go­ing to see a united front in the Sen­ate ““ not only among Re­pub­lic­ans, but I think the bill we’re bring­ing for­ward is go­ing to have a lot of ap­peal to the point where we’ll get a num­ber of Demo­crats who vote with us as well,” Scal­ise said. “You saw Sen. [Joe] Manchin ac­know­ledging that delay is im­port­ant; it’s a bi­par­tis­an is­sue.”

While tea party Re­pub­lic­ans align with Cruz, oth­ers are less im­pressed with his ef­forts in the Sen­ate, and it’s evid­ent that Cruz’s overnight talk mara­thon left a bit­ter taste in the mouth of some.

“They’re do­ing what they think is right,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a Boehner ally. “That’s up to them. But they haven’t been able to de­liv­er. They said if we sent them what we sent them last week that they could get 41 Re­pub­lic­ans and hold firm. Well they wer­en’t able to do that.”

Cruz’s meet­ings this week with some House Re­pub­lic­ans has caused spec­u­la­tion he was man­euv­er­ing to press them to go around their lead­er­ship. But one of those House Re­pub­lic­ans, Rep. Matt Sal­mon of Ari­zona, said on Sat­urday de­scribed that his talks with Cruz con­tained no such ele­ment.

“He met with us to listen to our ideas. [He] wasn’t try­ing to im­pose his will at all,” Sal­mon said. Asked if he was try­ing to im­pose his will on Boehner, Sal­mon replied, “That is not true.”

The sen­at­or could be put in the po­s­i­tion of de­cid­ing wheth­er to op­pose Demo­crat­ic moves to again strip out anti-Obama­care lan­guage, but this time at the risk of send­ing Con­gress past the Tues­day dead­line for a gov­ern­ment shut­down.

All Sal­mon would say to that is, “My hope is that Sen. Cruz and every­body over there will move this as quickly as pos­sible and get it to the pres­id­ent’s desk as quickly as we pos­sibly can.”

The sur­viv­al of the med­ic­al device tax re­peal lan­guage as part of a fi­nal agree­ment is something that could give House Re­pub­lic­ans and Cruz claim to some meas­ure of vic­tory, should the ef­fort to delay im­ple­ment­a­tion of the Af­ford­able Care Act fail.

Re­id has de­clared his op­pos­i­tion to the med­ic­al device tax lan­guage, too. But his op­pos­i­tion might face stat­ic from some Sen­ate Demo­crats, who are get­ting pres­sure from out­side Con­gress to back a re­peal. In ad­di­tion, the Sen­ate, in a sym­bol­ic move of sup­port for the le­gis­la­tion, voted 79-20 in a non­bind­ing res­ol­u­tion in March to re­peal the med­ic­al device tax as part of the cham­ber’s 2014 budget res­ol­u­tion.

“Very clearly he could sup­port one part of it,” said Rep. Tim Huel­skamp, R-Kan­sas. “I mean, it’s up to Harry Re­id to de­cide what he’s gonna do with this and how quickly they’re gonna move on that. I just would sug­gest to sen­at­ors, don’t plan on hav­ing the day off to­mor­row.”

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