Ted Cruz’s Playbook: Filibuster the House CR

Sen. Ted Cruz watches Gabrielle Giffords testify at the Senate Judiciary Committee, January 30, 2013. (Richard A. Bloom)
©2013 Richard A. Bloom
Michael Catalini
Sept. 22, 2013, 8:44 a.m.

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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