Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the guy who brought the Republican party to its lowest poll numbers in decades by pushing for a fight over government funding in October, is at it again, filibustering the Senate's effort to pass an increase to the debt ceiling. Other GOP senators, several of whom are facing conservative primary challengers, seemed disinclined to offer the votes it would take to bring Cruz's crusade to a halt. In the end, they did: the filibuster was ended on a 67 to 31 vote and a subsequent vote passed the debt ceiling increase.
Just yesterday we boldly proclaimed that the House's passage of a clean debt ceiling increase meant "no more debt limit fights for 13 months." We were only off by 12 months, 30 days, and six hours. It was the House that was expected to be the stumbling block, of course, given the fervent far-right minority that held the House Republicans to its whim during the shutdown. That group had been egged on by Cruz, who assigned himself the role of leader of the House conservative caucus in the run up to the shutdown. After the defeat the party suffered in October, collapsing in the face of the imminent need to increase the debt ceiling so that the government could pay its debts, the House conservatives didn't put up much of a fight this week.
Not so Cruz. On Tuesday, Roll Call reported that the senator was still trying to intervene in the House to block the body's passage of an increase. Today, he got the chance to do the blocking himself, filibustering the Senate version of the bill to necessitate 60 votes for it to move forward — only 55 of which can come from non-Republicans.
According to The Hill, only one Republican senator, Illinois' Mark Kirk, had pledged to vote for cloture — that is, against Cruz's filibuster — before the vote began earlier this afternoon. Meanwhile, "a number of other GOP centrists said Wednesday they plan to vote against cutting off debate for the bill," meaning that they would vote to maintain the filibuster.
The Senate's Republican leadership, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, voted for cloture. Each faces a fairly easy primary challenger this spring. As Business Insider's Josh Barro noted, "Most GOP senators will correctly see this vote as McConnell doing them a favor. Primary voters, maybe not so much."
If the Senate hadn't been able to end the filibuster, the debt ceiling wouldn't be raised. The Department of the Treasury has already reached the limit, which sets a cap on how much money the government can borrow to pay its existing debts. Secretary Jack Lew estimates that the ceiling will need to be lifted by February 27 to avoid defaulting on the country's debt — which could have massively negative effects on the economy at large.
But after a long period of silence, the Senate's president pro tempore announced that the last real obstacle to an increase had been erased — and by a decent margin. Ted Cruz had lost once again.
Cruz's communications staffer:
Seriously, the image of all the GOP sens walking down with "thumbs up" to suspend debt ceiling with nothing in return is searing.— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) February 12, 2014