Wonkbook: Ted Cruz is no Rand Paul

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(AP Photo/Senate TV)
(AP Photo/Senate TV)

If you had told me in 2011 that a filibuster against drone strikes would attract more Republican support than a filibuster against funding Obamacare I would've called you crazy. But here we are.

Ted Cruz is right that given the realities of Senate process, a vote for the bill to move forward will ultimately mean the bill gets stripped of the language to defund Obamacare. The Republicans pretending otherwise -- including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- are adopting a view of how the minority party operates that they don't hold to at any other time, on any other bills.

But just because letting the bill move forward means the defunding language gets stripped out doesn't Cruz has some alternative plan to actually defund Obamacare. After all, stopping the bill from passing doesn't defund Obamacare, either. It just shuts down the government. As Keith Hennessey, director of the National Economic Council under President George W. Bush, tweets:

Cruz-Lee strategy:

1) Gov't shuts down.

2) ?

3) Democrats cave, agree to defund or delay.

I don't get it. What's phase 2?

The closest thing to a candidate for phase 2 was Cruz's lengthy "filibuster" ("pseudobuster"? "fauxbuster"? "kindabuster"?). If the ex-champion debater could handle it right, it could become a defining event akin to Sen. Rand Paul's battle cry against drone strikes. The calls and e-mails would flood the Capitol, stiffening Republican spines and worrying moderate Democrats. Public opinion would begin to turn. It would be Mr. Cruz Goes to Washington.

But if this last month or two has shown Cruz's tactical prowess in cornering Speaker Boehner, his efforts on the Senate floor have shown his limits as a politician. Much of Cruz's speech has been aimed at lambasting other Republican senators -- a good strategy, perhaps, if Cruz's aim is to make himself look like the one true conservative, but a poor strategy if he's looking for the support necessary to have any chance at achieving his goals.

Moreover, Cruz has simply done a lousy job making the case against Obamacare. The early hours of his filibuster barely mentioned the law. Instead it was about D.C.'s responsiveness to public opinion -- which Cruz is hypocritically defying in his current efforts -- and higher questions of political theory and the innate tendencies of the leviathan. This perhaps plays well among Cruz's core supporters, but it's a poor approach to persuading, or even engaging, a skeptical public.

In some ways Rand Paul had an easier task when he took the floor against the drone war in March. Opinions on that issue are softer and more malleable than on health care. But in some ways, his task was harder, as both public opinion and Republican opinion was arrayed against him. And yet by targeting his complaints narrowly and speaking as if his interest was persuasive rather than combative, he managed to change the politics of that issue. It was a tremendous performance, and it revealed a politician skilled at speaking to those who disagree with him.

It's entirely possible that Cruz's effort in recent months will still lead to a government shutdown, as Speaker Boehner is considering attaching the kind of riders to Senate's continuing resolution that would make a shutdown inevitable. But he's not changed the politics around Obamacare. Phase 2 -- where he somehow gets Democrats to change their mind and choose to delay or defund their health-care law -- is still just a question mark. And that means Obamacare is still going into effect on October 1st.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 62 million. That's how many more Americans will have mental health care covered under the insurance plans as a result of President Barack Obama's health law, according to the White House.

Wonkbook's Quote of the Day: "We're one week from the opening...I am so ready to quit talking about 'Are we ready?' and switch to 'Here are the things we need to resolve, here are the mitigation strategies, here is what we're doing to correct and identify a problem,'" said Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner.

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: How states approached health-care reform.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) shutdown countdown; 2) Marilyn Tavenner's real talk; 3) millions in milliseconds, billions in the blink of an eye; 4) Cruz's pseudo-filibuster; and 5) green machines.

1) Top story: Cruzing towards disaster?

Senate Democrats seek a shorter-term continuing resolution. "Senate Democrats Tuesday announced they would support a six-week federal-funding extension—a month shorter than the bill passed by the House—creating another difference that needs to be ironed out to avoid a partial government shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) filed an amendment Tuesday to a bill passed by the House that would continue government services through Nov. 15—earlier than the Dec. 15 date set by the House measure." Siobhan Hughes and Patrick O'Connor in The Wall Street Journal.

Explainer: Everything you need to know about how a government shutdown worksBrad Plumer in The Washington Post.

House GOP may attach Obamacare delay to the continuing resolution. "The House Republican leadership is seriously considering attaching a one-year delay of Obamacare’s individual mandate to the Senate bill to avert a government shutdown, according to senior GOP aides. If House Republicans decide to go this route, it would all but provoke a government shutdown, since Senate Democrats might not even schedule a vote on a bill that includes that provision, Senate leadership staffers say...Boehner and his leadership team have been preparing options to present to House Republicans when they return on Wednesday from a brief recess. The process, leadership aides say, will be driven by members of the House Republican Conference. Their first closed party meeting is Thursday." Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan in Politico.

Interactives: A recent history of America’s debt ceiling, in one interactive graphicPam Tobey and Darla Cameron in The Washington Post.

Markets are starting to worry about the debt ceiling, in one chart. "This, from financial services information company Markit, is a measure of how worried investors are that the United States will default on its debts. Note the trend over the last several months, and note how, on Monday, it changed." Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post.

Democrats see GOP shutdown threat as opening for 2014 election gains. "Democrats are working hard to exploit massive unrest in the Republican Party over the looming government shutdown, which many see as one of their best chances of holding the Senate or even gaining the House in next year’s midterm elections. White House officials and other Democrats have been content to watch in recent days as Republicans have torn into each other over strategic disputes and are in no rush to launch negotiations on how to avoid a shutdown...The key to the Democratic strategy is a belief that a showdown is likely to play out similarly to the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, which turned public opinion sharply against the Republican majority." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Interview: Chris Van Hollen: ‘I don’t think anybody knows how it ends. And that’s a very dangerous place to be in.’ Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Republicans see Keystone pipeline as a point of potential leverage. "Republicans who support the pipeline have already signaled that they intend to demand approval of a permit for its construction in exchange for their willingness to support Mr. Obama and raise the nation’s debt ceiling next month...The pipeline could become an issue even earlier as lawmakers wrangle to avoid a shutdown by next Tuesday." Michael D. Shear in The New York Times.

@dcbigjohn: If the house sends the CR back to the senate with even a coma changed, hard to see how a shutdown of some length doesn't happen

KLEIN: Ted Cruz's filibuster is an excellent argument against Ted Cruz's filibuster. "Ted Cruz's quasi-filibuster is a bit past the hour mark, and it's...strange. Cruz isn't so much making an argument against Obamacare as an argument for direct democracy, or at least a high level of responsiveness to public opinion. "Americans feel like they don't have a voice," Cruz said. "I hope to play a small part in providing that voice for them."...[T]is a bizarre argument for Cruz to be making. After all, Cruz himself is firmly on the wrong side of public opinion." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

BERNSTEIN: The path to dysfunction. "[N}ew, nonestablishment money. There exists today a toxic combination between record levels of wealth concentration and the devolution of campaign finance rules such that independent and often anonymous donors have much more influence.  Again, this breaks down party discipline in ways that are most clearly seen by the frustration of Republican leadership in trying to figure out how to develop candidates who can get past radically conservative primaries to more moderate general election voters." Jared Bernstein in The New York Times.

@TheStalwart: Will House Dems support a "clean" CR that doesn't restore sequestration cuts, or will GOP have to pass that on its own?

FRIEDMAN: The way we were. "Countries that don’t plan for the future tend not to do well there. When you watch the reckless behavior of the Tea Party-driven Republicans in Congress today, you can’t help but fear that we’ll be one of those. What makes it all the more frustrating is that in so many ways we have the wind at our back, if only we’d pull together to take advantage of it." Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times.

@RameshPonnuru: Keep seeing people make the point that ocare funding continues even without a CR. The defunders know that!

Music recommendations interlude: Django Django, "Default." (Obvious debt-ceiling reference is obvious.)

Top opinion

ORSZAG: Economy can't be all that's slowing health costs. "All things considered, I don’t put too much weight on last week’s report from the Medicare actuaries. And I’m willing to put some pride, if not money, on the table. The actuaries project that, in 2014, Medicare will grow by more than 5 percent. I bet it will be less than that. (Anyone who wants to take the over on that projection can e-mail me at the address at the bottom of this column, and we will check back at the end of 2014.)...It is also encouraging that the growth in total compensation in the health sector has fallen to between 2 percent to 4 percent annually over the past three years, from 5 percent to 8 percent a decade ago." Peter Orszag in Bloomberg.

SACHS: The end of poverty, soon. "[T]he Development Committee of the World Bank set the goal of ending extreme poverty by the year 2030. More recently, the United Nations General Assembly working group on global goals concluded that “eradicating poverty in a generation is an ambitious but feasible goal.” As one who wrote in 2005 that ours was the generation that could end extreme poverty, I am pleased to see this idea take hold at the highest levels." Jeffrey D. Sachs in The New York Times.

DWYER: 5 Republican myths on defunding Obamacare. "Myth No. 5: Obamacare is causing job losses and is forcing people into part-time work. Sorry, wrong again. That conclusion just isn't supported by hiring statistics, says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics. "I was expecting to see it. I was looking for it, and it's not there," Zandi tells USA Today. His firm manages ADP's surveys of private-sector job creation." Paula Dwyer in Bloomberg.

PORTER: For American women, is it enough to lean in? "[T]he policies that will most help improve the lot of women in the workplace may be focused not on women but on families and, specifically, on men...Women’s labor supply is not the only thing to have plateaued. The narrowing of the gender wage gap slowed sharply in the mid-1990s. Over the last decade or so the typical wage of a woman in her prime has hovered around 80 percent of the typical wage for a man." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

15 minutes of fame interlude: Who is Corner Guy?

2) Obamacare's impending launch

Marilyn Tavenner lays down some real talk. "Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner delivered an upbeat message to a conference of health insurance professionals ahead of Oct. 1, the date when open enrollment begins. "We're one week from the opening," Tavenner said. "I am so ready to quit talking about 'Are we ready?' and switch to 'Here are the things we need to resolve, here are the mitigation strategies, here is what we're doing to correct and identify a problem.'"" Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

Medicaid applications face delay in health exchanges. "The federal government's insurance exchanges won't be able to transfer Medicaid applications to states when the exchanges open Oct. 1, another sign of the technical hurdles the Obama administration is facing in preparing for the health-overhaul law...In the first weeks after those exchanges open, applications from people who are eligible for Medicaid won't be electronically passed to state offices to complete them, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said. The applications will instead be transferred on Nov. 1, said a spokesman for the agency, which is overseeing the set-up of the exchanges." Louise Radnofsky in The Wall Street Journal.

Getting mental-health care at the doctor's office. "Starting next week, plans sold on the new insurance exchanges must provide at least some mental-health coverage; existing plans must do so when they come up for renewal. And a 2008 federal "parity" law bars insurers from putting more restrictions on mental-health benefits than on medical services. As a result, as many as 62 million more Americans will have access to mental-health coverage, by White House estimates...The idea of having primary-care providers treat mental-health issues with psychiatrists' oversight isn't new, but it is catching on in community health centers, large health systems including Kaiser Permanente and the Veterans Health Administration, and pilot Medicaid and Medicare projects." Melinda Beck in The Wall Street Journal.

How to gut Obamacare. "If House Republicans want to fray the Affordable Care Act on the eve of its implementation, defunding it won’t work. They’d be better off stripping or delaying the individual mandate. That’s the conclusion of two recent studies that speak to one of the many moving pieces in this fall’s vicious budget debate." Annie Lowrey in The New York Times.

Interactive: How states approached health-care reformKatie Park and Rebecca Rolfe in The Washington Post.

President Obama enlists Bill Clinton to help pitch new health insurance exchanges. "The two men who stand as bookends for the modern Democratic Party made a united sales pitch to millions of uninsured Americans to enroll when new insurance marketplaces open Oct. 1. “I don’t have pride of authorship for this thing,” Obama said of the law that could determine his legacy. “I just want the thing to work.” Clinton added: “I think this is a big step forward for America. But first, we’ve got to get everybody to sign up.”" Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.

Shutdown unlikely to hit Obamacare's rollout. "Because of the way the law was written and financed, its implementation "might continue during a lapse in annual appropriations," the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said in a July report. The major financing for the Affordable Care Act—including subsidies for lower-income people to buy health insurance from private carriers on the marketplaces—comes from mandatory spending rather than the discretionary spending that Congress is debating...The Department of Health and Human Services also needs some additional funding to start the marketplaces and keep them running, but it has already proven adept at cobbling together funds amid congressional resistance. It is using about $1.5 billion from various internal programs to introduce its new online marketplace and technical systems this year after Congress refused the Obama administration's funding requests, the Congressional Research Service found...The online marketplaces are expected to be self-sustaining by 2015, mostly through fees levied on insurance carriers." Amy Schatz in The Wall Street Journal.

How many people will buy Obamacare on day one? California’s estimate: Two. "Many in the health policy world see Oct. 1 as a crucial date, when Obamacare's new exchanges open and, for the very first time, millions of uninsured Americans will shop in a completely overhauled insurance market...Two Californians, he told reporters when pressed for a projection of Oct. 1 enrollment, would likely sign up.This was a bit of a joke and not an official California projection. It was, however, meant to underline the very low expectations that health officials have for first-day Obamacare enrollment." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Obamacare’s insurance markets launch in a week. Here’s a state breakdownNiraj Chokshi in The Washington Post.

What Republicans don't understand about the politics of Obamacare. "The GOP's strategy right now is entirely aimed at getting Democrats to begin dismantling Obamacare...Republicans do have a theory as to why Democrats will ultimately agree to some of this. Obamacare is unpopular. A lot of Democrats are up for reelection in 2014. In the end, they'll see a delay of the whole thing, or at least of the individual mandate, as a gift. The Obama administration may complain, but when vulnerable Senate Democrats begin voting with the Republicans, they'll quickly cave...Congressional Democrats are realists on Obamacare. It's not popular now. They don't expect it to be popular by the 2014 election. But they know they own it." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Here’s why Obama won’t delay the individual mandate. "[A]ll the delays so far do have one thing in common: They erased political headaches for the law while barely denting the number of people that the health overhaul will cover in 2014. The delays Republicans are asking for now would cause major political and substantive headaches for the law while sharply reducing the number of people it covers. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, without an individual mandate, 11 million fewer people would gain coverage next year." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Federal worker health program to remain largely stable. "Premiums in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program will rise an average of about 4 percent for 2014, the third straight year of increases in that range, the Office of Personnel Management announced Tuesday...About 8.2 million people are covered by FEHBP insurance, about half of them enrollees and the rest family members. The government pays an average of 70 percent of the total premium cost...Officials said that several factors helped keep costs down, including continued emphasis on wellness programs and an emphasis on generic rather than brand-name prescription drugs. For 2014, plans must increase their benefits for health screenings and counseling for alcohol and tobacco use and must offer health risk assessments. Another factor is competition: There will be 256 participating plans, 10 more than in 2013, although the large majority are regional plans. Health insurance companies “see this as a valuable market and they’re coming in and that helps keep prices down,” said John O’Brien, OPM director of health care and insurance." Eric Yoder in The Washington Post.

Strange headlines interlude: "Why do people want to eat babies? Scientists explain."

3) Millions in milliseconds. Billions in the blink of an eye.

Traders may have gotten last week’s Fed news 7 milliseconds early. "Reporting from CNBC and Quartz points to strong circumstantial evidence that one or more traders received an early leak of the Federal Reserve's surprise decision last week not to slow down its bond purchases...Somebody placed massive orders for gold futures contracts betting on exactly that outcome within a millisecond or two of 2 p.m. that day -- before the seven milliseconds had passed that would allow the transmission of the information from the Fed's "lock-up" of media organizations who get an early look at the data and the arrival of that information at Chicago's futures markets (that's the time it takes the data to travel at the speed of light." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Home prices are still rising, but at a slower pace. "[I]n the face of pent-up demand and emboldened consumers, home values were still heading upward at a healthy pace, rising 12.4 percent from July 2012 to July 2013, according to the Standard & Poor’s Case/Shiller home price index, which tracks sales in 20 cities. A separate index of mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac showed an 8.8 percent gain in prices over the same time period." Shaila Dewan in The New York Times.

Lew warns investors about debt ceiling. "U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said investor confidence that a deal can be struck on the debt limit is probably “greater than it should be.” Lew, who spoke at the Bloomberg Markets 50 Summit in New York today, repeated that President Barack Obama won’t negotiate with congressional Republicans on increasing the debt limit." Ian Katz and Jeanna Smialek in Bloomberg.

AIG CEO: Anger over AIG bonuses ‘just as bad’ as lynchings. "AIG's CEO Robert Benmosche — who came in to rescue the company after the 2008 financial crisis — told the Wall Street Journal that the outrage over the bonuses promised to AIG's members was just as bad as when white supremacists in the American South used to lynch African Americans: "The uproar over bonuses "was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitchforks and their hangman nooses, and all that — sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong." Yes, enduring some public criticism for receiving multimillion-dollar bonuses after helping crash the global economy is a lot like being hanged from a tree by your neck until you die." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Futuristic interlude: Here’s how self-driving cars could clear up traffic jams.

4) Cruz's pseudo-filibuster

Sen. Cruz speaks at length against Obamacare. "Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) escalated his conflict with fellow Republicans Tuesday when he stepped up his attacks on President Obama’s health-care law, complicating House GOP efforts to pass a funding bill that would avert a government shutdown next week. Launching a marathon speech modeled on old-fashioned filibusters, Cruz also informed his Senate GOP colleagues that he would try to stretch the debate well into the weekend, according to senators who attended private huddles Tuesday. With Senate passage all but certain, including funds for the health law, senior Republicans had hoped to allow the measure to advance quickly to give House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) more time to respond with a different version of the legislation." Paul Kane and Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Watch: 10 colorful quotes from Cruz's speechJose Delreal in Politico.

Senate Republicans walk away from Cruz. "Facing an increasingly likely defeat in his tangled procedural fight over funding the government, Senator Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor on Tuesday and declared he would speak “until I cannot stand” to rally voters against the health care law...Yet outside the chamber, his colleagues worked against his efforts to block a vote to take up the House-passed bill that does precisely what he wants: financing the government through mid-December while cutting off money for the Affordable Care Act." Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.

Blogs for Wonkblog interlude: politicalstrangenames.blogspot.com.

5) Green machines

Benefits outweigh costs for renewable energy. "Wear-and-tear costs on coal and natural gas power plants from adding high levels of wind and solar energy in the U.S. West is small compared with the benefits of generating less power using fossil fuels, a federal study said Tuesday. The Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory determined the western power grid could accommodate 30 percent wind and 5 percent solar energy in 2017." Reuters.

Debate: Should the U.S. finance alternative-energy startups? "For proofs of past success, take a trip to the Hoover Dam, one of the original government-financed energy startups. Loans from the Rural Electrification Administration, meanwhile, provided the capital necessary to bring lights to rural America. Further proof can be found in the very example that opponents use to argue against a government role—that is, the idea that natural gas and free markets have already shown us the best way to reduce carbon emissions. The truth is that government research and tax credits led to new drilling techniques that are at the heart of today's natural-gas boom." Richard W. Caperton vs. Douglas Holtz-Eakin in The Wall Street Journal.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

The real reason the Redskins can't win a gameNeil Irwin.

Ted Cruz’s filibuster is an excellent argument against Ted Cruz’s filibusterEzra Klein.

Here’s why Obama won’t delay the individual mandateSarah Kliff.

Here’s how self-driving cars could clear up traffic jamsBrad Plumer.

Markets are starting to worry about the debt ceiling, in one chartJim Tankersley.

Traders may have gotten last week’s Fed news 7 milliseconds earlyNeil Irwin.

What Republicans don’t understand about the politics of ObamacareEzra Klein.

Chris Van Hollen: ‘I don’t think anybody knows how it ends. And that’s a very dangerous place to be in.’ Ezra Klein.

How many people will buy Obamacare on day one? California’s estimate: TwoSarah Kliff.

At the State Department, diversity can count against youLydia DePillis.

AIG CEO: Anger over AIG bonuses ‘just as bad’ as lynchingsEzra Klein.

Everything you need to know about how a government shutdown worksBrad Plumer.

Et Cetera

The story you'd have otherwise missed today: United Nations reports 'dramatic' progress in fight against AIDS. Reuters.

The House is working on a farm bill, reduxRon Nixon in The New York Times.

Resurgent liberals put heat on ObamaNeil King Jr. in The Wall Street Journal.

Medical marijuana launching in MassachusettsKay Lazar in The Boston Globe.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Sarah Kliff · September 25, 2013