It started as an appeal to principle against pure pragmatism. It is ending as farce. After getting their way in the House of Representatives last Friday when House Speaker John Boehner agreed to push through a bill funding the government but not ObamaCare, Tea Party hardliners were faced with a problem. Once the bill was in the Senate’s hands, the Democratic majority would trash it. So in order to continue their quixotic quest, Senator Ted Cruz, whose fiery rhetoric and implicit threats of primary opposition for any Republican who didn’t join his suicide caucus had helped create this dilemma, had to come up with a tactic that would keep the fight going without immediately kicking it back to the House. Ever resourceful, Cruz found an answer. But it is not one that is going to do his cause any good.
Cruz’s solution to the problem was to effectively back a filibuster of the House bill that he supports. No, that’s not a typographical error. In order to stop ObamaCare, Senate conservatives are going to have to vote against cloture of the bill that they spent the last few weeks cajoling and threatening the House GOP to pass. But as they say in Texas, that is a dog that will not hunt.
Theoretically, the tactic will trigger the showdown with President Obama and the Democrats that Cruz has been assuring the GOP grass roots can be won if only Republicans don’t lose their nerve. But in order to get there he is forcing Senate Republicans to adopt a hypocritical stance that is too much for even some of the most stalwart conservatives and libertarians. Put simply, if even Rand Paul thinks this is a situation where some compromise is called for, it’s time to drop the curtain on the government shutdown drama that has convulsed the Republican Party and threatens to rescue an Obama administration that is about to fade into lame-duck irrelevancy.
To say that Senate Republicans aren’t buying Cruz’s cynical stand is an understatement. While no one should ever underestimate the willingness of U.S. senators to twist themselves into pretzels to gain a momentary advantage, asking the GOP to filibuster the very bill they begged the House to pass is a bridge too far even for Cruz. There is no way that he will get 41 Republicans to go along with this farce, and for good reason.
Even if one thought that, at least in theory, it was possible for Republicans to go to the brink with the president over defunding the government over ObamaCare, to do so in this manner isn’t just suicidal; it’s insane. As difficult a sell as a shutdown would be for the GOP, to do so while filibustering your own party’s bill should be considered excessive even by Cruz’s standards. The president was always going to win such a standoff, but if that is the ground on which the Republicans choose to make their stand, the administration doesn’t even have to make much of an effort to convince the public that any damage that results from a shutdown should be blamed on the GOP.
And that should lead those who have spent the last week blasting Boehner as a craven hostage of his Tea Party caucus to rethink their evaluation of the speaker. By going along with those conservatives clamoring for eliminating funding for ObamaCare, he seemed to be caving in and supporting a shutdown. But what he has done is to merely serve the ball back into Cruz’s court, knowing full well that the Texan has no viable option to continue the battle. Rather than setting a shutdown in motion, Boehner’s action may actually be the first step toward a rational agreement that will allow the GOP to avoid going over the cliff with the Tea Party. Since he has given his members a chance to vote to defund ObamaCare, the failure of the Senate firebrands may enable him to ask the House to pass a compromise that will avoid catastrophe.
Cruz and his followers will denounce such rational behavior, but if Boehner eventually gets his way President Obama will have good reason to be disappointed. As much as ObamaCare is a mess that should never have been passed, there is simply no path to its elimination so long as the Democrats control the White House and the Senate. Recognizing this fact isn’t the act of a RINO, it is merely rational analysis of the problem. The crackup of the shutdown effort illustrates that Cruz and company are all about the rhetoric but never had a game plan to actually get their way. Republicans should pay close attention to the way this is playing out and thank Providence if their party narrowly avoids the disaster they seemed headed for last week.