Ted Cruz’s shutdown scheme takes shape

Ted Cruz's shutdown scheme takes shape
Ted Cruz's shutdown scheme takes shape
Associated Press

Intra-party tensions among congressional Republicans boiled over last week when House Republicans, after embracing a far-right government-shutdown plan, heard Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) declare that the entire effort will almost certainly fail.

As of now, however, Cruz is moving forward anyway, pushing a shutdown scheme he expects to flop. The right-wing Texan made his case on Fox News yesterday morning, and fleshed out his plan further in an op-ed this morning on a conservative website.

If Senate Republicans stay strong and hold true to their previous commitments to defund Obamacare, we will force Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to make a choice: keep the government open, or shut it down in the name of funding a glitch-riddled health care takeover that is killing jobs, wages, and health care benefits all across the nation.

I always worry that writing about legislative procedures is too boring for readers, but in this case, it’s important – and there’s no other way to tell the story – so stick with me for a minute.

Congress has a week to pass a spending bill before the government shuts down. The House GOP leadership originally wanted to make it easy for the Senate to fund the Affordable Care Act and avoid a crisis, but rank-and-file House Republicans refused to go along. On Friday, the House majority instead approved the exact measure the far-right wanted to see, including the “defund Obamacare” provision.

So what happens next? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will try to bring the House bill to the Senate floor with a motion to proceed. Unhinged Republicans could filibuster this, but it would be bizarre – they’d be blocking the House bill they support. From there, Reid would offer an amendment to scrap the House’s anti-healthcare provision, before filing cloture on the bill itself and start the clock on a final up-or-down vote.

Could Cruz just filibuster Reid’s amendment? No, the amendment would pass with a simple majority. Could he filibuster the final vote? No, that’s majority-rule, too.

The bill would then return to the House, where Republicans would have to choose whether to pass the Senate version or shut down the government. Most of the folks I’ve talked to on Capitol Hill assume they’d choose the latter and focus their energies on creating a debt-ceiling crisis.

Cruz seems to realize all of this, but has an alternative scenario he wants the GOP to embrace.

From his op-ed this morning:

Senate Republicans should demand a 60-vote threshold for any effort that would add Obamacare funding back into the House bill. This is the battle line: Senate Republicans must stop Reid from rejecting the House bill and adding Obamacare funding with merely 51 votes.

The House bill must be protected.

That would be the House bill that Cruz has already said publicly that he expects to fail.

So, as a procedural matter, Cruz wants Senate Republicans to get behind him and vote, in near-complete unanimity, to filibuster the House bill they want to pass. Cruz will tell Reid and Senate Democratic leaders, “We’ll continue to block the bill we support until you agree to let us filibuster your amendments.”

Why would Dems agree to this? They wouldn’t.

But Cruz thinks he has some leverage. Indeed, when Harry Reid laughs in his face, Cruz will say, “Oh yeah? Either you agree to let us filibuster your amendments or we’ll continue to block the bill we support until the government shuts down.”

This plan could work if Senate Republicans were united around the idea. In fact, if nearly every GOP senator announced today, “We stand with Ted Cruz and we’ll all oppose the bill we support until Harry Reid meets our demands,” then the odds of a shutdown would increase dramatically.

But there’s no evidence this is likely to happen. On the contrary, quite a few GOP senators – none of whom actually likes Cruz – consider the whole scheme kind of silly and want Cruz to just go away. (Over the weekend, Republicans even started sending opposition research to Fox News about the junior senator from Texas.)

Making matters worse, even if Senate Republicans felt overwhelming pressure from unhinged Tea Party activists and actually endorsed this scheme, they’d make it impossible to blame Democrats for the shutdown – GOP senators would have created the shutdown by filibustering their own bill.

Ten days ago, I predicted there was a 65% chance of a shutdown. Today, I’d put that number at 40%.

Ted Cruz and Government Shutdowns

Ted Cruz's shutdown scheme takes shape