Government Shutdown: Ted Cruz Oddly Seeks Democrats' Help Defunding Obamacare

09/23/2013 06:50 pm ET | Updated Sep 24, 2013
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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) mounted an ill-fated bid Monday to enlist Senate Democrats' help in filibustering a bill he has pushed all summer, and which would all but guarantee a government shutdown if it succeeds.

Cruz and several other tea party Republicans campaigned throughout Congress' August recess to have House GOP leaders pass a budget continuing resolution that funds the government after Sept. 30 only if President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats agree to defund the Affordable Care Act.

The House did so on Friday. But recognizing that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has the authority to strip the language defunding Obamacare, Cruz asked Reid on Monday to either pass the bill without a vote, or to require 60-vote thresholds on amendments that don't normally require them under Senate rules.

Reid objected.

Cruz said Reid should agree with him, citing as an example the Senate's vote on gun control earlier this year, when complicated negotiations over the controversial measure did produce such an agreement.

"When this body was debating the issue of guns -- a contentious issue, an emotional issue, an issue of great importance to this country -- the majority leader agreed with the minority that every vote on this floor would be subject to a 60-vote threshold," Cruz said.

"I would suggest that Obamacare is no less important. Obamacare is no less controversial," Cruz added. "And Obamacare likewise should be subject to the same threshold."

Cruz failed to note that in the case of gun legislation, Democrats are divided. They are not on Obamacare, and none are willing to defund the president's signature legislation.

Reid turned Cruz down, saying he had no intention of making a difficult, high-stakes process even harder.

"I really try to follow the Senate rules. Sometimes they are obnoxious, and I wish they were different, but I try my best," Reid said, adding that the upper chamber was chock-full of enough "arbitrary hurdles" as it is.

"Don't add even more barriers to get more things done," Reid said. "The American people are really fed up … it's rare that I go someplace that they don't say, 'What are you going to do to change the rules?' They know what the rules are and how difficult they are."

It's unclear why Cruz thought Reid would agree, and his office did not answer a request for comment. It's also unclear what he thought he could accomplish even if Reid had agreed.

Under normal Senate rules, the Senate would hold a 60-vote threshold vote on Wednesday on whether to take action on the continuing resolution passed by the House. After 30 hours of debate, the Senate would require a simple majority vote at some point on Thursday to actually begin work on the bill. It is at this point that Reid could offer an amendment that strips the Obamacare measures, doing so in a way that, in Senate jargon, "fills the tree," and makes no other amendments possible.

Before the amendment vote, however, the Senate would have to debate the bill, and vote again by 60 votes or more to end that debate -- likely Saturday unless Cruz and like-minded Republicans stop objecting. After another 30 hours, likely ending on Sunday, any pending "germane" amendments would require a 51-vote majority, as would final passage, according to the rules.

Cruz said he wants even that final amendment vote to be a filibuster vote. If it is, the amendment would not pass because there are not likely to be enough Republicans willing to join Democrats and back Harry Reid.

The end result would be that the measure that funds the government fails, and the legislative process would have to start over, with just one day left before the government runs out of money. The only obvious advantage to the government closing in that manner is that Republicans who started the showdown could say the funding bill failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Indeed, while Cruz and Republicans decided to link funding the government to ending Obamacare, the Texas senator also tried to accuse Democrats of exploiting a potentially dire situation.

"There is a tendency in this town towards brinksmanship, towards pointing to events that can cause instability and uncertainty and using them to try to get your way," Cruz said. "I wish the majority leader had been willing to step forward and say, 'I agree, number one, that the government should be funded. We should not have a government shutdown.'"

Republicans in the House have also linked the nation's debt limit to the Obamacare showdown by including a provision in their funding bill that essentially tells the Treasury Department how to pay the country's bills if Congress fails to authorize the required borrowing.

Reid likely also would remove that language. Republicans said it would prevent a technical default because the legislation says holders of U.S. debt would get paid first. Reid, however, argued it was a "pay China first" policy that would mean foreign creditors would get paid before Americans on Medicare or in the military. The nation is predicted to hit its debt limit next month.

Cruz has not gotten much support from other Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said Monday that he will not join Cruz in trying to filibuster the House bill, which does exactly what Cruz and McConnell want -- defund Obamacare.

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