WASHINGTON – Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) vowed to do “everything necessary and anything possible” to ensure passage of legislation that would strip the new healthcare law of some of its funding, assuring House Republicans of his full support for a strategy that could risk a government shutdown.
At a news conference Thursday, Cruz locked arms with House Republicans who have championed the “defund Obamacare” strategy, one day after conservative lawmakers bristled at a statement Cruz issued that acknowledged Republicans had little chance of succeeding in the Senate.
The first-year Texas senator spent much of the August recess traveling the country urging conservative activists to pressure Republicans to support a showdown with President Obama over the Affordable Care Act.
The strategy is to attach a provision cutting off funds for the implementation of the healthcare law to a resolution that Congress must pass to continue funding government operations. Conservatives view this as their best leverage to undermine the new law, after dozens of mainly symbolic votes to repeal all or part of it. But others see it as brinkmanship likely to result in a government shutdown for the first time in almost two decades, since the Democratic-controlled Senate has vowed to reject the approach and Obama to veto it.
But facing pressure from their conservative flank, House Republican leaders initially lukewarm to that approach ultimately agreed this week to adopt it, announcing to the party rank and file Wednesday that the House would vote on it Friday.
In a statement praising that decision Wednesday, Cruz said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution, and right now he likely has the votes to do so.” At that point, Cruz said, the House GOP “must stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people.”
That comment drew howls from House Republicans. Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin tweeted that Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) “refuse to fight. Wave white flag and surrender.” Rep. Timothy Griffin (R-Ark.) said Senate Republicans “are good at getting Facebook likes, and town halls, not much else. Do something.” One anonymous Republican aide told NBC that Cruz was “like the kids in high school who would yell fight, fight, fight, but have never thrown a punch in their entire life.”
Cruz downplayed the reaction Thursday as the “back and forth” of politics. He and Lee said they believed Senate Republicans would stand united to support the House bill and said it was possible that some Democratic senators facing difficult reelection fights could be convinced to vote for it.
Asked if he would mount a traditional, talking filibuster on the Senate floor to force the matter, Cruz said all options were on the table. “I am confident that Mike Lee and I will use every procedural means available to fight for the American people to defund Obamacare,” Cruz said.
He said that he and Lee would “fight with every ounce of breath we have.” But mirroring his statement from Thursday, he added, “Ultimately this fight will be won by the House continuing to stand their ground, as they are so courageously doing today.”
House proponents of the effort refused to speculate about what might happen if the Senate does, as expected, return the spending bill without the defund language. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), referring to the New England Patriots head coach, said, “Even Belichick doesn’t script out the whole game.”
“The American people are with us on this issue. We just need to continue to make that case,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho). “It’s Harry Reid and the president that are willing to shut down the government if they don’t get everything they want with a law that I believe is going to be harmful to the American people.”
Republicans also discounted the idea that their party would be blamed in the event of a shutdown.
“I wasn’t here in 1995. But that was the last century. That was a century ago,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), referring to the year the last government shutdown began. “What’s changed since then … is we have the most unpopular bill in modern history sitting right before us. An overwhelming majority of Republicans oppose it, and most independents.”
Republicans, he said, believe that the refusal by Democrats to agree to a one-year delay is an “untenable” position. “Most folks in America recognize that you can’t get everything you want,” he said.