Cruz makes his case — and here’s why it’s wrong

Written by . Posted in 2014 Campaigns, 2016 Campaigns, Featured

Published on September 22, 2013

Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, went on with Neil Cavuto Friday afternoon to discuss his Obamacare defunding plan, which (paradoxically or absurdly, take your pick) requires a filibuster against the House-passed appropriations bill that defunds Obamacare. Here are my thoughts on the state of the defund effort, which have not changed at all.

But in the interest of equal time and thoroughness, I want to share the arguments made by Cruz, who think it’s fair to say has become the  chief representative for the defundistas. I encourage you to watch the whole thing first, before looking at any of my comments below.

Now I’d just like to focus on a few of his comments. Here’s one:

“…and the only way we win, the only way we ultimately move the votes in the Senate, is for the House to continue to stand strong, to stand firm, to start sending over limited continuing resolutions, funding the military, funding different pieces of the government, one at a time…”

It’s very appealing when Cruz says he wants to fund the government, piece by piece, and simply omit funding for Obamacare. It sounds like a real strategy.

Unfortunately, he’s glossing over a major technical detail that sinks the whole thing: The funding for Obamacare does not depend on the government spending bill (the “continuing resolution”) that Cruz has now announced he will block from getting a vote on the Senate floor.

Obamacare gets funded whether that bill passes or not. So there’s no such thing as funding the rest of the government and “leaving out” funding for Obamacare. If there was, this whole thing might almost make sense. There would be real leverage. 

The whole concept of “defund” is to block funding for other, unrelated government functions until Democrats agree to trade away funding for Obamacare. This detail is vital — and I’m convinced that most conservatives who have bought into this strategy have been misled to believe we can hold off Obamacare for a while with a government shutdown. Cruz has repeatedly said, as he does in the interview above, that he’s just trying to keep Democrats from funding Obamacare. But that’s a bit misleading. Obamacare is already funded, and that won’t change if this bill gets stalled by a filibuster. During the shutdown, the Marines don’t get paid, but Obamacare gets funded. 

Here’s another segment, in which Cruz discusses trying to move the votes of Red State Democrats: 

“People say none of them have gone over yet. Of course not. Republicans are not unified. No Democrat is going to join us until Republicans are unified, and if you’re a red-state Democrat from Arkansas, from Louisiana, and you start getting 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 calls from constituents saying Obamacare is killing jobs, hurting Americans, suddenly your calculus changes….

That last part makes some sense, but not in the context of the strategy Cruz has announced. If you’re really interested in putting pressure on Democrats to heed their constituents and vote to defund Obamacare, then you make them take the very vote that Cruz is trying to prevent from happening. If the idea is really to put pressure on vulnerable Senate Democrats, you make them vote to strip the defunding provision out of the continuing resolution, and then you let the voters in Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, North Carolina, and other states cast judgment as to how well they’ve been represented.

Contrary to the “defund” idea that we cannot afford to try and lose right now in hopes of a longer fight, there has to be a judgment by the voters before it can succeed. None of the Democratic members Cruz is referring to have been up for re-election since they voted for Obamacare originally. And they know they’re not going to be any better off politically if they change their minds now and flip-flop on it — if anything, that makes them even weaker. So why not make them remind the voters what they did, and let the chips fall?

Many defenders of the “defund” strategy — and I don’t mean Senate staffers or political operatives, but just ordinary conservatives with real lives and families and jobs and low-profile Twitter accounts — have thrown this argument at me. I’ve got it all wrong, they say — the whole point of “defund” is to put the Democrats on the record.

Well, I’m sorry, but Ted Cruz says you’re wrong, and you don’t have to take my word for it. His plan is to spare the Democrats from taking that vote until the issue of Obamacare has been completely eclipsed by the prolonged government shutdown he wants to force.

Why can’t we take this issue to the ballot box? The argument is that somehow, Obamacare will be impossible to repeal once 2% (per CBO) of Americans are getting Obamacare subsidies next year. And mind you, many of these subsidy recipients will still be paying more for their health insurance than they do currently, based on what we know now. Obamacare isn’t just another entitlement — it’s a complicated price-fixing and health care-rationing scheme that will likely harm far more voters than it pleases. Will the mere presence of a possibly useless subsidy addict them to government overnight? I doubt it.

Another segment:

“…I know for sure that you lose 100% of the battle that you begin by surrendering, and all these Republicans who say we can’t win, if they want, these various pundits who want us to surrender, that will make sure we can’t win.

I understand what Cruz’s larger goal is here. In principle, I sympathize with it. He sees himself pushing the envelope as hard as he can in his direction. If it doesn’t work out, fine, but maybe the results end up better for his efforts, right?

Cruz is not the first to do this. (Tom Coburn and Jeff Flake both come to mind.) I hope he won’t be the last. But I also hope that in the future, he and others do it in a much smarter way than he’s doing it now. First of all, I hope they display the patience that change requires. Flake, for example, lost vote after vote after vote on the House floor for years in his ultimately successful campaign to shame Republicans out of appropriations earmarks. In this case, we can’t handle losing a vote.

Another thing — In this case, there seems to have been less effort to persuade or even inform conservative colleagues in Congress than to raise unrealistic expectations among their constituents and cast them preemptively as “surrender monkeys” if they failed to go along. I don’t mean that Cruz should have merely done what leadership wanted — both Coburn and Flake have shown you can wage a holy war against leadership and still win their respect. I mean the rank and file. 

Hence the resentment — especially from conservatives in the House. A few of these congressmen took to Twitter and Facebook and even television to express bitter or at least polite complaints when Cruz sought out the nearest mic to point out that the Senate votes aren’t there to support defunding. In Cruz’s defense, this was always known, but House members find it irritating that they’re expected to carry all the weight of the defundistas‘ bravado, and that they — not Cruz — will be left with the base’s ire when this unrealistic plan doesn’t come to fruition. 

For months, Cruz has been headlining public events in various locations, telling other members’ conservative-base constituents that the impossible will be easy to deliver — that Republicans can stop Obamacare from ever starting if they just hang tough and DON’T BLINK!

Conservative voters may not be well-versed in the fine points of Senate parliamentary procedure or the structure of continuing resolutions, but they probably feel like they can trust Cruz. Hey, he’s one of us, right? He wouldn’t travel across the country and promise it would be easy to do something if he couldn’t deliver. Would he?