Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) coauthored the letter that kicked off the defund Obamacare movement. And he’s been the most outspoken congressional proponent of the strategy. But he’s never actually promised it would work. “If ordinary Washington rules apply,” he said in August, “we can’t win this fight.” For an Obamacare defunding play to succeed, “the American people” would have to “rise up,” and (presumably) something, something, hope for a unicorn.
So it wasn’t exactly a big revelation when Cruz said last night that the new plan by House Republicans to pass a continuing resolution that didn’t fund Obamacare would go nowhere in the Senate. "[Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution, and right now he likely has the votes to do so," Cruz said. Once that happens, “House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people.” Maybe that’s when they’ll get around to rising up?
But Cruz’s admission that the votes weren’t there drove some House Republicans nuts anyway. "We haven't even taken up the bill and Ted Cruz is admitting defeat?" a senior GOP aide complained to The Huffington Post.
The frustration is understandable. Cruz has spent the last month bashing House Republicans for their timidity in declining to make a strong push to defund Obamacare. But the minute Speaker John Boehner agreed to do so, Cruz deflated the entire effort by saying that it wouldn’t work.
Cruz tried to tiptoe back a step or two today, saying he’d do whatever it takes to stop the law. “I will do everything necessary and anything possible to defund Obamacare,” he told NBC. It was a vow, but not a plan. If Cruz had a plausible strategy to flip the Democratic votes necessary to pass a defund measure in the Senate, we’d have seen it by now.
Of course, it's hard to backpedal too much given that Cruz's assessment of Harry Reid's likely response is correct. The flaws in the defund plan have been obvious from the outset. Harry Reid and the rest of the Senate Democratic majority were never going to allow an Obamacare defunding bill to pass in the upper chamber. And even if by some miracle they did, there’s still the White House to contend with. Even without the explicit veto threats, there’s never been any good reason to think President Obama would sign on to a bill to defund the health care law.
The question is what happens after the Senate sends an Obamacare-funding CR back to the House. Maybe House Republicans collectively refuse to pass the plan, and proceed with a government shutdown (although public antipathy towards that possibility suggests it may not count as listening to the American people). Maybe House Speaker John Boehner allows a vote on a Senate-edited funding measure, and it passes with help from a bunch of House Democrats. No matter what, it’s hard to see how any of this actually results in the defunding of Obamacare, at least not until the unicorn arrives.