Obamacare Stand

Most GOP Senators Will Bow to Ted Cruz on Obamacare

Many Senate Republicans will vote against a clean bill despite speaking out against a shutdown, says Michael Tomasky.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The key question facing the Senate this week is not whether Ted Cruz will get his filibuster. He won’t. Oh, he scored some big points with his pseudo-filibuster Tuesday night, which is destined to make him enough of a hero to some Americans to win, oh, up to 180 electoral votes in 2016.

Instead, the interesting and important question at hand here is this: how many Republican senators are going to vote for a “clean” continuing resolution—one that keeps the government running with no strings attached? Many Republican senators have said in recent days or weeks that shutting down the government is unviable and defunding Obamacare is impossible. Well, if they think that, then logic dictates they ought to vote for the clean CR, right? But few will. So I say to you: Watch those numbers, because they’ll tell you the extent to which the extreme wing of the base is running the party right now. And they’ll probably end up telling you that even though Cruz lost his filibuster battle, he’s going to win the war.

Here are the numbers. We have 46 GOP senators, right? Right. And over the course of the last two months, 24 of those, more than half, have put statements on the record saying shutting down the government over Obamacare would be ridiculous.

Jim Risch of Idaho: “There isn’t anybody that thinks that Obamacare is going to get defunded. It cannot happen. It is as impossible as anything can possibly be in Washington, D.C....We were elected to govern—you don’t govern by shutting down the government.”

Orrin Hatch of Utah: “My personal belief is the only way to get rid of Obamacare is to be intelligent and smart about it and gradually just work on it, work it through. But to expect the government to shut down is not the way to do it.”

Ron Johnson of Wisconsin: “So I appreciate the fact that they’ve raised the issue. But defunding Obamacare, with President Obama in the White House and Harry Reid in the Senate, I think is next to impossible.”

Saxby Chambliss of Georgia: “I appreciate Senator Cruz’s passion, his intent to want to defund Obamacare. I’d love to do it too. But shutting down the government and playing into the hands of the president politically is not the right thing to do.”

You get the picture. All these people, and 20 others, are saying that defunding Obamacare at this time and in this way is absolutely the wrong thing to do. They want to save that fight for another day, and they don’t want any part of a government shutdown.

So these 24 should vote for the bill Reid is going to present to them, should they not? After all, his bill will keep the government operating (only until December 15, but at least it’ll keep the lights on). And it will put off the Obamacare fight to another day.

The other 22 Republican senators are probably lost (although there are a couple of anomalies among that 22). But why shouldn’t the 24 vote with the Democrats? The Democratic bill will be their stated position!

But of course, they won’t. Reid and other Democrats, I’m told, are lobbying them hard, trying to get them to cast a bipartisan vote. Think about the rare signal a bipartisan vote would send here, even if it were just 12 Republicans and not 24. It would put more pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to accept the Senate’s clean CR—again, the one these Republicans say they want!—by next Tuesday, and pressure on more House Republicans to vote for it. A bipartisan vote would show that the far-outers really had finally gone too far out this time and what we need is a dose of sanity, however temporary. Instead, I would be shocked if more than four or five Republicans vote for Reid’s bill. It’s the usual list: maybe John McCain, Susan Collins, Mark Kirk, Lisa Murkowski, and so on.

So why would so many people vote against their own position? First and foremost, of course, because it’s Reid’s position, and by extension Obama’s. Only a few of them have the stones to play with that fire. But second, they also know that giving Reid as few GOP votes as possible strengthens the hand of Boehner and the House Republicans to play games with the CR the Senate sends back to the House. Boehner can attach new conditions that are short of a full defunding but that might delay certain aspects of the law anyway. That’s also why Republican senators started saying on Tuesday afternoon that they want to get the bill back to the House as soon as they possibly can, so the House Republicans have more time to make mischief.

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So they’re against a shutdown, these GOP senators, and they’re against trying to defund Obamacare in this way. But they, or most of them, are going to vote against their own stated position to help the rabid House Republicans throw more monkey wrenches into the gears. I’ll grant that this isn’t a filibuster. But neither is it governing. It’s the talk-radio position, Limbaugh legislating.

And it basically affirms the Cruz view. Senate Republicans will not back Cruz on his filibuster, but unless I really miss my guess here, all but a handful of them are going to be voting for Cruz’s position, to defund Obamacare. In this sense, they’re still making him their de facto leader. The logic of these things is such that next time, probably December 15, Cruz just might have a little more support for a filibuster, and then a little more, and then a little more. And each time, Cruz attains that much more power.

I doubt most of those 24 senators really want that. Privately, I bet they’d agree with me about him maxing out around 180 electoral votes. But they’re hastening the day, all because if Obama is for it, they have to be against it. If Cruz rides this to the nomination, they’ll be reaping what they’ve spent years sowing.