The nation has moved on, but Ted Cruz has pulled his fellow Republicans in Washington right back into 2010.
Three years ago next week, the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — became law. Last year, the Supreme Court upheld the legislation in an opinion written by the conservative chief justice, John Roberts.
Republicans campaigned for repeal in 2012, but President Barack Obama was re-elected, and Democrats gained seats in the Senate and the House, and won the popular vote. Since the election, Republican governors have begun to embrace the law.
Here in Washington, though, it is as if tea party activists are still marching on the Capitol. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans supported legislation proposed by the freshman Cruz, the 42-year-old junior senator from Texas, to defund Obamacare — the 35th attempt, give or take, to abolish the program.
This one failed, like all the others.
Doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result, it has been said, defines insanity. Among Senate Republicans, however, the lunatics are running the asylum. A few of the most junior members, with support from conservative activists, are calling the shots, while the caucus’ nominal leaders, intimidated by the newcomers’ power, have become followers.
Last week, it was the 13-hour filibuster of the incoming CIA director led by first-term Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, under public pressure from conservatives, eventually endorsed on the Senate floor.
This time it was the quixotic repeal effort by Cruz, who has been on the job for all of two months; McConnell made an unscheduled appearance on the Senate floor to associate himself with the doomed effort.
Cruz was rallying his fellow Republicans in support of the dubious principle that implementing Obamacare means imminent economic ruin. The Republican said in a conference call Tuesday that the law would “push us into another recession,” according to The Dallas Morning News.
Cruz was only slightly less categorical on Wednesday morning. “At a minimum, in my judgment, Obamacare should not be funded,” he said on the Senate floor, because “implementing it right now could well force us into a recession.”
“At a minimum.” That’s the same phrase Cruz used last month to imply that Chuck Hagel, now defense secretary, was on foreign payrolls. “It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea,” Cruz said, without evidence.
At a minimum, Cruz is making Republican leadership look weak. Seniority has been tossed aside as McConnell and the No. 2 GOP leader, John Cornyn, of Texas, follow the cues of the junior senators from their home states, Paul and Cruz.
Cruz’s amendment garnered 45 Republican votes, while many senators spoke in support. Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, made an unannounced appearance at Cruz’s news conference to praise the young lawmaker: “I really applaud Senator Cruz.”
That’s some treatment of a man who was making what he called his “first official speech” on the Senate floor. His only other speech was during Paul’s filibuster, when Cruz read passages from Ronald Reagan, William Shakespeare and William Barret Travis’ letter from the Alamo. “As they say in the beer commercial, it don’t get no better than that,” Cruz said.
Except that it did. Cruz got all Senate Republicans to support his amendment, which he justified on the flimsy rationale that Obamacare (much of which is yet to be implemented) is responsible for the economy’s slow growth — ignoring the housing collapse, the financial crisis and the deepest recession in generations.
The young Texan had managed to pull Senate Republicans even further to the right than their counterparts in the House, who opted not to seek a repeal of Obamacare in the legislation they just passed to fund the federal government. And House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget would repeal the health care law but keep $1 trillion in tax increases associated with the program.
Cruz said Ryan’s budget “doesn’t go far enough.” And he suggested that House Republicans force a showdown with Obama to see if he’s “willing to try to shut the government down in order to insist that Obamacare be fully funded.”
Republicans will disregard Cruz’s advice at their peril. He may have only 60 days of seniority, but, at a time when power is measured in loudness, he’s already in charge.
Dana Milbank is an American political reporter and columnist for The Washington Post. Email to [email protected]