Sen. Cruz’s legislative strategy against Obamacare makes no sense

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has never held elective office and it’s showing. He’s great at riling up the grassroots, but has no viable strategy to achieve the legislative result he wants.

Heritage Action and various Tea Party groups spent the summer trying to mobilize people against Obamacare. Senator Cruz and they say they’re determined to defund the Affordable Care Act. And last week, the House passed a Continuing Resolution (CR), with money to fund the federal government, sans the ACA.

Now, it’s been clear from the start that there’s no way defunding the ACA will ever happen. Obama wouldn’t sign such a law and there isn’t even a majority in both houses of Congress to pass it, let alone the 2/3 needed in each to overcome a presidential veto. Frankly, anyone who has taken a civics class should know that.

But, putting that aside, Cruz has no next step with any viability whatsoever.

Consider where we are headed in the legislative process:

  1.  The House has passed the CR.
  2.  Next it goes to the Senate where, as reports indicate, Majority Leader Harry Reid will seek to amend it to strip away the defunding portion. An amendment passes with a majority vote.* Democrats have a majority in the Senate and it will pass.
  3. Once amended, the Senate will vote on the bill and it will pass, without defunding Obamacare.

So what does Sen. Cruz want senators to do?

He wants them to filibuster the CR, the one that includes the defunding.

Yes, he wants senators to vote to block voting on the bill he supports. That way the CR can’t be amended to strip out the defunding.

But if they block the CR, the CR with the defunding won’t go forward to be voted upon. And that would be the end of it.

Cruz’s fellow Senate Republicans see his plan to defund the ACA as bound to fail. Here’s one of them, per reporting from Politico:

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Thursday took a whack at Cruz over social media for leading the charge to push Republicans to back only spending bills that defund Obamacare, which many in his own party have predicted will result in a government shutdown blamed on Republicans.

“I didn’t go to Harvard or Princeton, but I can count — the defunding box canyon is a tactic that will fail and weaken our position,” Corker said, a clear reference to the Harvard- and Princeton-educated Cruz.

Business interests oppose Cruz’s approach and Republican strategists are clear that, while the ACA lacks majority support (in part because some opponents want single-payer), a shutdown would hurt the party.

In a recent survey conducted by David Winston, a pollster who advises the House GOP, 71 percent said they opposed “shutting down the government as a way to defund the President’s health care law.” Only 23 percent approved. [Source]

And here’s Senator Cruz speaking with Chris Wallace on Fox News. Wallace tells Cruz that his proposed filibuster is just not going to work.

Cruz wants to blame President Obama for a government shutdown that would result if no CR or budget is passed.

But Obama won’t be anywhere near the process, if the shutdown results from Republican Senators filibustering the CR, the one Cruz and some others wanted the House to pass.

Addition: In the Chris Wallace interview (clip above), Cruz offers a follow-up strategy. If this first effort fails to defund Obamacare, the House can break the budget into pieces and can add a provision ending funding to the ACA for these one by one.

The first would be a bill funding the military. He says that Reid and Obama will have trouble voting against that one in the particular.

Here’s the problem with that: The majority in the Senate won’t vote “no.” They’ll vote “yes” on proceeding to vote. Then they’ll vote “yes” to amend the bill to strip defunding the ACA from it. And then finally they’ll vote “yes” to fund the military or whatever funding the provision concerns.

The only way that won’t happen is if Republicans stay united and filibuster it.

In either case, Obama hasn’t vetoed anything, nor will he ever. It’s quite clear Cruz has not thought out his legislative strategy.

*Note 1: For a detailed look at relevant Senate rules and procedures, see this piece by Prof. Sarah Binder.

Note 2: The title of this post has been changed.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.