In a relatively brief statement from the floor of the Senate on Monday, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for the first time presented his case for how a vote to fund the government should proceed. It was a stunning presentation, largely divorced from how most people — his colleagues included — understand the reality of his quixotic fight.
First, the reality. Cruz, backed by conservative activists, spent the summer arguing that the key to defunding Obamacare (technically, the Affordable Care Act) was to refuse to pass any legislation funding the government unless it didn't include money for the program. The House, under pressure from those activists, passed a continuing resolution doing exactly that — at which point, Cruz largely threw up his hands, lamenting that nothing could be done in the Senate. When others in his party criticized that move, Cruz pledged to do whatever he could despite the Senate Democratic majority — including, oddly, to filibuster the House bill.
That only began the topsy-turvy logic that was evident on Monday.
1. Lamenting how things work in D.C.
"There is a tendency in this town towards brinksmanship, towards pointing to events that can cause instability and uncertainty and using them to try to get your way. … Had the majority leader simply said, "I consent," a default on the debt would have been taken permanently off the table. Now, why didn't he? We all know why he did not. Because the majority leader embraces Obamacare."
His argument: People in D.C. sometimes wait until there is a moment of crisis, offering leverage on contested issues.
Reality: Cruz knows this happens because it is precisely what he is doing. Just to spell it out: Cruz was actively using brinksmanship to try and get his way on the issue of Obamacare. As for the "I consent" argument …
2. His offer to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
(In the following quotes, "Mr. President" refers to the rotating acting president of the body, to whom speeches are addressed.) Cruz said:
"I don't want a government shutdown. No one on this side of the aisle wants a government shutdown. … Mr. President, five minutes ago the Senate could have acted to prevent a government shutdown. The request that I promulgated to the majority leader was to pass the continuing resolution that the House of Representatives passed. And if that had happened, there would be no government shutdown. A government shutdown would be taken off the table. … But unfortunately, the majority leader chose to object."
And later: "He is willing to force even a government shutdown in order to insist that Obamacare is funded."
His argument: It was up to Harry Reid to avoid a shutdown by acquiescing to a funding bill that left out Obamacare. Since Reid wouldn't, the shutdown is his fault.
Reality: Pick your analogy. A kid saying "stop hitting yourself" as he pops his little brother in the face with his own hand? The always-evocative kidnapper, lamenting that he has no choice but to kill the prisoner after receipt of payment was delayed? If your argument is do-what-I-want-or-nothing-gets-done, it's more than a little disingenuous to suggest it's your opponent's fault if nothing gets done.
3. Obamacare is killing jobs
"Americans all over this country are suffering because of Obamacare. It is the single biggest job killer in America. Every day we're seeing more and more evidence that Obamacare is killing jobs, that it is hurting American workers who are struggling, that it is causing people to be forcibly put into part-time work 29 hours a week, that it is jacking up their health insurance premiums, and it's causing more and more people who are struggling to lose their health insurance altogether."
His argument: The nefarious Obamacare is the most damaging thing affecting the economy.
Reality: It isn't. We looked at the effects of the bill earlier this month, finding that response to businesses adjusting for Obamacare was mixed. It's very pertinent in this conversation to note that the broadest component of Obamacare hasn't yet gone into effect — so some businesses are preparing by shifting employees to part-time, but most businesses have seen little effect.
As for his later claims that Americans oppose Obamacare: They do. Conservatives have been pummeling the policy, while advocates have just started promoting it. Because it largely hasn't yet kicked in.
What is the single biggest job-killer in the country? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: cuts in government job rolls. Cruz supports those cuts.
4. Getting sixty votes for amendments on important bills is how the Senate works
"The majority leader has stated it is his intention to force a vote to fund Obamacare and to do so using just 51 votes, to do so on what could be a straight party-line vote, and in all likelihood would be a straight party-line vote. … If it is the majority leader's intent to fund Obamacare using just 51 votes, then I would submit to every Republican in this body it is our obligation to our constituents to do everything we can to prevent the majority leader from funding Obamacare with just 51 votes."
His argument: By forcing the need for 60 votes on the continuing resolution — in other words, enough votes to overcome a filibuster — it's giving the issue the debate it deserves. The issue is too important for a simple majority to pass it.
Reality: Cruz loves the filibuster, a tool he once called the "traditional 60-vote threshold" in the Senate. Here, his goal is largely to not have to actually get up and talk indefinitely in order to maintain a filibuster, since, obviously, that can't last forever.
But the best rebuttal to Cruz's argument on this comes from Cruz. Here's his description of how Obamacare was passed:
We all know that, three-and-a-half years ago, Obamacare was forced into law on a strict party-line vote, by straight brute force. But it shouldn't be funded that way. That's not the way a government should proceed. That's not the way this institution should proceed.
As for the House vote that moved the funding bill to the Senate (and which passed 230 to 189):
[Two hundred thirty] members of the House of Representatives came together and said explicitly: do not fund Obamacare. I would note that included two Democrats who came together with their Republicans in a bipartisan manner to say this law isn't working.
Got that? Fifty-one Democratic votes in the Senate is a party-line, brute force vote. Two hundred twenty-eight House Republicans joining with two Democrats is "bipartisan." If even one Republican joins with the Democrats on this measure, that's already a higher percentage of support than the House saw. Ergo, Ted Cruz must obviously endorse the idea as a representation of all that is great in our American democracy.
5. Ted Cruz's only concern is the little guy
"This body should be not be granting special rules, special favors for the ruling class, for those with power and privilege. We should be fighting for those who are struggling, and those are the people that are getting hurt the most by Obamacare."
His argument: Self-evident.
Reality: Cruz has not yet taken a public position on the House Republicans' push to eviscerate the federal Food Stamp program.