In the end, all the scheming and hollering and 21 hours of jabbering from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) added only a handful of votes to the group of 14 Senate Republicans who had originally vowed to vote against cloture on the House’s continuing resolution. Aside from Cruz and his junior partners, Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), only 16 others joined the useless stunt. Three are noteworthy.
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a freshman who understands full well that Cruz’s plan is fatally flawed (lacking 51 votes to ever defund Obamacare), wilted under the pressure of Cruz and Heritage Action; she apparently is running scared five years before she is again on the ballot. Contrast that with freshman Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), elected in 2010, who voted yes on cloture, explaining that such an action followed by the clean up-or-down vote on funding Obamacare was the only responsible one.
Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) also fall into the “should know better” category. (The same could be said of their “no” votes on immigration reform.) Portman’s gay-marriage stance and Toomey’s attempt to broker a compromise on gun legislation landed them in the soup with the right; only one act of courage per term is apparently permissible.
After the cloture vote, the Senate decided, on a party-line vote, to take out the defunding provision. That was the clean vote that House Republicans had set up and was the inevitable result, with or without the Cruz floor show.
But the plot thickens. The House has votes to pass the clean CR (the rump group will object) with, if need be, a few Democrats. What if Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants to include a tweak to force congressmen into Obamacare? Maybe he could slip in something else. The rump group would refuse and Boehner would lack a majority; the House gets nothing instead of a shot at something, thanks to Cruz and his followers.
Now Cruz has roped his 20 or so House zealots into opposing any debt-ceiling bill that doesn’t get rid of Obamacare funding, and that is where the real damage comes in. The House had intended to put in a whole slew of “asks” in the debt-ceiling bill, ranging from Keystone to delaying the individual mandate, but Cruz’s puppets won’t support that (no defunding!) so there is no majority. The House can either force a default, which Boehner will never allow, or again turn to the House Dems and get nothing on the Republican list.
Cruz and his rump group in the House, as some of us have warned, are preventing Republicans from real accomplishments so that they can strut as the only true conservatives. The conservative media types who cheered Cruz, saying he mostly got it right or that maybe things would work out, should appreciate the dilemma now facing House Republicans.
If there is a silver lining, it is that a shutdown or — heaven forbid — a default would actually focus the blame right back on Cruz. His defenders might recognize the damage he is doing to Congress, the party, conservatives and the country. They might even recognize that the behavior is of such low character that he is not deserving of higher office. Then again, they can keep cheering with silly grins as they watch the GOP implode.