Ted Cruz moment of truth: What's his new 'path to victory'?

Ted Cruz is in a bind: After goading House Republicans to risk a government shutdown over Obamacare, he now says Senate Republicans must first vote down the defunding measure they support and send it back to the House.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, here speaking at a July 24 congressional hearing, says that he will fight 'with every breath' to stop the 2010 health-care law from taking effect, even if it means shutting down the federal government. That pledge faces a test this week, as a House measure that follows his approach – averting a shutdown only if Obamacare is defunded – comes before the Senate.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas is outlining a new “path to victory” – legislative tactics to pass a funding bill to keep the government open while defunding Obamacare. Does the Cruz plan stand any chance of success?

Well, anything can happen in US politics, so it’s possible Senator Cruz’s ideas could work. But the path he’s offering is twisty and difficult and involves Senate Republicans mounting a filibuster against the defund-Obamacare provision they actually support.

In other words, they have to be against it before they can be for it. That’s a tough sell for many in the GOP.

“Senate rules – combined with the strategic context and GOP disagreement – give Democrats the upper hand,” judges Sarah Binder, a professor of political science at George Washington University, on The Monkey Cage political blog.

Cruz outlines his victory roadmap in an opinion piece Monday on RealClearPolitics. Its first step involves demanding that majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada subject any effort to remove the defund provision from the spending bill that passed the House on Friday to a 60-vote threshold.

If Senator Reid doesn’t agree to do that – and he won’t, because he doesn’t have to – then “a vote for cloture is a vote for Obamacare," writes Cruz. In other words, Cruz and his allies will try to filibuster the bill at their first opportunity, even if it’s word-for-word identical to the version passed by the Republican-controlled House.

There’s more, but we’ll stop for a moment to outline Reid’s likely moves in an attempt to make this clearer. Reid’s basic position will (probably) be this: He’ll open debate on the bill, file an amendment calling for the Obamacare provision to be struck, then call for cloture [a procedural move to end debate] before the amendment comes to a vote.

Once Reid gets 60 votes for cloture, further debate is capped at 30 hours, and pending amendments only need 50 votes to pass. Given that Democrats are a majority in the Senate and a number of Republican senators are wary of shutting down the government over defunding Obamacare, Reid should have an easy time striking the Obamacare language in this scenario.

“If GOP senators actually follow [Cruz's advice] they will, in effect, be voting against a bill that includes Obamacare defunding,” notes Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski.

Cruz has admitted in the past that Reid and the Democrats likely will win in the Senate and block any GOP bid to defund health reform, and this judgment may ultimately be proved correct, according to Mr. Lesniewski, a procedural expert who’s been examining the details of this issue for days.

But the Cruz plan also has a Part B: If the bill gets through the Senate, then the House should refuse to go along and pass a clean funding bill, he says. Instead, it should break up the big continuing resolution into sections, beginning with military spending, and pass each with defund-Obamacare language attached. And, eventually, Reid will be forced to back down, he says.

“Dare Reid to keep voting to shut down the government,” Cruz writes.

The Texas tea party favorite says pressure from US voters who oppose the Affordable Care Act will cause Reid to cave. Again, that’s possible. But it’s more likely that votes on mini-funding bills won’t differ much from the vote on a big one. And polls show Republicans will get at least as much of the blame as Democrats, and possibly more, if the government shuts down.

Of course, for Cruz himself there can be victory, even if the Senate passes a bill he doesn’t like. After urging on House Republicans to link defunding to a government shutdown, he now needs to make an impact in some way, note Washington Post political experts Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan.

This could involve hours of a talking filibuster, or convincing at least a few wavering Senate Republicans to his side.

“What Cruz must prove this week is that he’s more than just talk; that when he has the chance to act on principle, he does everything he can to do exactly that,” write Mr. Cillizza and Mr. Sullivan.

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