While most of the week has been spent watching House Republicans decide precisely what to do about defunding Obamacare, and how much energy they'll pointlessly expend in this going-nowhere act this time around, here at week's end, we find that GOP leaders on the Hill going to war in a more parochial fashion. Their target: Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
The Cruz-directed snipes have been coming as fast and as furious as is possible, given that they've mostly been dispensed by anonymous sources. "He's a joke, plain and simple," said one "senior GOP aide." Another House GOP aide told the National Review Online that "Nancy Pelosi is more well-liked around here."
One of Cruz's fellow Republicans who has been brave enough to attach his name to his remarks is Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who told reporters this week that Cruz was a "fraud" who should "no longer have any influence in the Republican Party." As CNN reported, King continued like so:
"We can't be going off on these false missions that Ted Cruz wants us to go on. The issues are too important. They're too serious, they require real conservative solutions, not cheap headline-hunting schemes," he said.
But where is all this coming from? It's actually pretty much high school-level clique-histrionics, actually. And more than anything else, it's a battle between the House and the Senate over who will be left holding the Defund Obamacare Futility Bomb when it finally goes off.
Obviously, just about every GOP legislator, given the opportunity, would defund Obamacare tomorrow if there was a possibility they could do so. And, in fact, they've tried some 40-odd times. One might question whether doing so is good policy, but none should question the desire of Republican policymakers to gut President Barack Obama's landmark achievement.
The thing is, though, Cruz sort of did. Cruz was one of the GOP leaders who first hatched the plan to threaten taking the government hostage over Obamacare. Birthing that notion immediately gave House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) -- whose preference is to avoid a government shutdown -- a huge migraine. But Cruz didn't stop there. He appeared in ads for the Senate Conservatives Fund, haranguing his fellow senators "to stand up and defund Obamacare now." As Jackie Kucinich noted, the fact that he did so while simultaneously serving as the vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee "put him at odds with the campaign committee’s practice of supporting incumbent senators."
Boehner had wanted to pass a continuing resolution in the House with an addendum attached that would give everyone in the House a chance to once again vent and complain about Obamacare's existence. But enough members of his House GOP caucus rose up to scuttle that. They were largely influenced by Cruz, who called Boehner's idea "political chicanery" that "easily allows Senate Democrats to keep funding Obamacare."
This forced Boehner to modify his plans, and the bitter utterances of anonymous GOP aides at the time basically boiled down to: "Kiss my ass, Ted Cruz, this is your problem, now." One GOP aide got splenetic with Politico, like so:
If figures like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) call the plan chicanery, and other conservatives say the House is weak, GOP leadership wants to see him and others stand up and filibuster the CR [continuing resolution]. In short, the House is sick of getting blamed for being weak on Obamacare.
Asked whether they are trying to put pressure on Senate Republicans to filibuster, Rogers said, “You can say that.”
A senior GOP aide said, “They should be preparing for a two [to] three week filibuster, to prevent the Senate from adjourning.” The aide added that there are enough Senate Republicans to prevent a funding bill from reaching President Barack Obama’s desk.
But after the House modified their plans to suit the insurgency that Cruz had helped foment, Cruz suddenly shifted from rabble-rouser to surrender-monkey. In a statement that left many Republicans gobsmacked, Cruz said, "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."
So after all the "come die on this hill with me" ads, and the broadsides against Boehner's plan -- mocking it as a surrender to Harry Reid -- Cruz just ... surrenders to Harry Reid. And with that, it seems like GOP leadership in Washington voted unanimously to raise the hackle-ceiling sky high.
Of course, beneath all of the backbiting, there is reality -- and the reality is that Cruz is correct. As Byron York explains here, Cruz and his like-minded Senate allies are constrained by certain Senate rules and actually do not have the option to filibuster. Not even one of those old-timey, talk-until-you-piss-yourself filibusters.
And as Niels Lesniewski of Roll Call explains, the simple fact of the matter is that there are procedural options available to Reid to do precisely what Cruz is saying will happen. The Senate will have the votes to strip the Obamacare part of the law and pass a clean continuing resolution, at which point it bounces back to the House. (From there, in theory, the House can keep sending it back to the Senate, but the conditions in the Senate aren't likely to change anytime soon.
So, the basic bottom line here is that Cruz is right about what's realistically possible, but GOP leaders are nonetheless well-and-rightly pissed off at Cruz for ginning up all this mad, stand-and-fight foolery that denied Boehner his preferred "vent-and-pass" plan for the continuing resolution. Now, we've got this fight between House and the Senate -- neither of whom want to be left holding the bag when this effort to defund Obamacare fails.
Of course, all of this pain could have been avoided if everyone could come to terms with the simple reality that President Barack Obama is never, ever, ever going to sign a bill that defunds or delays or in any way imperils Obamacare. But that is clearly asking too much.
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This story appears in Issue 68 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, available Friday, Sept. 27 in the iTunes App store.