The House leadership yesterday took back the Obamacare/shutdown/debt ceiling process from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Meanwhile, Cruz confirmed by his willingness to cede back the balance of the time before a cloture vote that his “don’t blink” line was a bunch of hooey. Having had his 21 hours of fame, he’s ready to pack up. He, in other words, is effectively allowing the House leadership to do what it wanted all along.
The House already sold the strategy to the House Republicans that if need be, the Obamacare modification measures would be attached to the debt ceiling. Although reporters might forget the House leadership’s original strategy, this was not unexpected.
The trick will be to come up with a debt ceiling bill quickly enough so that when the Senate Continuing Resolution comes back “clean” the House can make some focused changes, return it promptly to the Senate, keep the government open and move to the debt ceiling. This envisions that Cruz, oddly after trying to filibuster the defunding Obamacare CR, won’t stall a CR with funding. (Try to explain how that is anything but a giant gimmick to get his mug on TV.)
Moving on to the debt ceiling is actually preferable, from one point of view, since the pressure on the GOP and the White House not to allow a default makes both sides more cautious. It is because the stakes are so high on the debt ceiling that the radical conservatives, on one side, and the White House belligerents, on the other, will be most constrained.
In the Senate, as I noted above, Cruz followed up on his earlier concession of the day (joining all 99 other senators in allowing the Senate to move on to the bill). Minority leader Mitch McConnell’s communications director Don Stewart explained by e-mail that after the balance of the 30 hours was surrendered (instigated by Cruz) the motion to proceed followed and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed his amendment to strip out the Obamacare defunding measure. The bottom line, he said is that “what this means is that the next cloture vote will be no later than Friday morning. . . . There will then be up to 30 hours of post-cloture debate. The Senate will vote on any points of order that are raised, and of course, any amendments that are germane and pending post-cloture will be in order. And then final passage.” All this can get sped up by unanimous consent, but that would be another sign of Cruz’s unseriousness in really doing everything to stop Obamacare funding.
To put it bluntly, Cruz got his 21 hours of talk, but did not affect the process one iota. The CR from the Senate, tweaked by the House will have Obamacare funding.
All of this, of course, risks coming up very, very close to the Sept. 30 deadline. Let’s say the Senate acts, the House acts, Cruz mutters and we get a final CR. Then the House has its vote on the debt ceiling hike, which is likely to be littered with all sorts of goodies including something on Obamacare. Then the drama replays. Does Cruz threaten to filibuster that, then cave and finally go along with a Senate-modified debt ceiling bill? We’ll see, but his actions yesterday suggest he’s content with his 21-hour TV commercial.
The debt ceiling is unlikely to result in defunding or serious modification of Obamacare but there is room for the House, for example, to force Congress to participate in Obamacare and get such items as the Keystone pipeline. These would be significant gains considering the GOP controls only the House.
And, of course, all of this can change at a moment’s notice.