By Russell Berman - 09/24/13 09:40 AM EDT
An attempt by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to delay Senate consideration of a House-passed spending bill could leave Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Republicans little time to respond without forcing a government shutdown after Sept. 30.
Cruz has vowed to do everything possible to prevent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) from stripping out a provision defunding the healthcare law, a strategy that could push back a final Senate vote until Sept. 28.
Republican lawmakers and aides note that, procedurally, the House could move rapidly to act either way on a Senate-passed bill. But Boehner has struggled to win consensus from his conference on almost any issue, and he could be hard-pressed to find a way to win 217 votes for any change to the Senate measure.
He faced a similar quandary during the “fiscal-cliff” debate on New Year’s Day, when he was forced to bring up the Senate’s compromise after House Republicans could not coalesce around an alternative.
Backed by conservative activists, Cruz and his Senate allies say they would oppose a cloture vote on a motion to proceed to the House bill because Reid has signaled that once the Senate calls up the bill, he would try to remove the ObamaCare defunding provision with a simple majority vote. The cloture motion requiring 60 votes would then become the main hurdle.
“Until Reid guarantees a 60-vote threshold on all amendments, a vote for cloture is a vote for ObamaCare,” Cruz wrote in an op-ed Monday on the Real Clear Politics website. “It would amount to giving the Democrats a green light to fund ObamaCare with 51 votes.”
Whether Cruz’s Republican Senate colleagues join him is an open question. Several, including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), have already denounced his push to defund the healthcare law in the spending bill. And House Republicans have warned that attempts to filibuster would play into Reid’s desire to drop the Senate’s version on the House as close to the Sept. 30 deadline as possible.
In an exchange on the Senate floor, Reid rejected Cruz’s attempt to pass the House continuing resolution by unanimous consent and a second attempt to make any amendments subject to a 60-vote threshold.
Conservative groups supporting the strategy quickly embraced Cruz’s move, downplaying concerns it could ultimately help Reid jam the House.
“Reid can only do it if Republicans let him do it,” said Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action. “Assuming he does, there’s no reason the House should simply accept what Harry Reid sends over.”
Holler argued that a long debate in the Senate could help conservatives build public support for defunding the healthcare law, “softening the ground” for future legislative battles.
The maneuvering comes amid an escalating Republican civil war over its fiscal strategy, as establishment party figures warn that the confrontations over federal funding and the debt ceiling could backfire politically.
A longtime Boehner ally in the House, former Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), called out 30 to 40 House Republicans who vote no on nearly all important bills and have led the House, as an institution, to resemble a zoo.
“Frankly, they take such a dim view of their job that a trained monkey could do what they do,” he wrote Friday in The Washington Post. “And, sadly, the situation is becoming one in which the monkeys are running the zoo.”
Former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) warned that conservatives who are seeking to delay ObamaCare in an upcoming debt-ceiling battle will cause “massive collateral damage” to the GOP by pushing a strategy that is “clearly unachievable.”
“The idea is being put forward by people who do not really care what the impact is of a default or a near-default,” he wrote in an op-ed for The Hill. “These are folks who have never governed and are not inclined to do so.”
Holler countered that Republican critics of the defund move should “stop trying to set strategy in a static situation.”
“They’re not going out and trying to move public opinion,” he said. “They’re not going out and trying to win the debate.”