Republicans following Cruz’s playbook as shutdown crisis unfolds

Greg Nash

House Republicans have more than taken a page out of Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) shutdown playbook. They’re following it to a “T.” [WATCH VIDEO]

GOP leaders on Tuesday introduced a series of bills to fund specific parts of the government in lieu of one sweeping package — a strategy Cruz had floated a week ago and promoted again Monday night as the government was closing its doors.

ADVERTISEMENT
The freshman senator has also been the driving force behind the plan to condition any new spending on the inclusion of provisions scaling back President Obama’s 2010 healthcare reform law.

Cruz and GOP leaders have sometimes bickered over strategy, while at other times they have looked to be on the same page.

Either way, it’s created the impression that Cruz is leading the House.

“This whole Congress has been on ‘Cruz control’ for the last few weeks,” Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) lamented Tuesday.

Meehan, one of a handful of House Republicans who backs moving a “clean” funding bill with no ObamaCare language, said Cruz hijacked the debate leading up to the shutdown, first by demanding a defunding of the Affordable Care Act and then with his 21-hour floor speech on the topic, which churned countless headlines and cable news clips.

But he bristled at the idea that House Republicans were taking their cues from Cruz, even as the House prepared to advance the small, targeted spending bills that Cruz had championed.

“Most of our conference is not waking up in the morning and reading what Ted Cruz is saying. Ted Cruz is doing his thing, but I think we look at it completely differently,” Meehan said. 

“He has a tremendous capacity to step in front of the parade and act as if he’s leading it.”

Democrats have accused Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) of ceding his gavel to Cruz. They like the senator’s narrative, which they see as helping them cast blame on Republicans for the shutdown.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said this week that “Speaker Cruz” is “essentially running the show” in the House. And Senate Democratic leaders berated GOP leaders on Tuesday for taking Cruz’s strategy so literally. 

“I’m afraid now we’re now going to get a list of Sen. Cruz’s favorite agencies,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said.

In their latest move, House GOP leaders on Tuesday pushed three bills to reopen the national parks, provide certain veterans’ benefits and fund basic operations in Washington, D.C.

It’s a strategy very similar to that pushed by Cruz last week, and again in an interview with CNN on Monday. He said Republicans should fund those areas where Democrats — particularly Obama — were attacking Republicans for denying services under the shutdown. 

“Let’s fund a continuing resolution funding the interior, keeping the parks open. Let’s one at a time demonstrate the same bipartisan cooperation we saw today with the military and address all of these people that he’s holding out as are going to suffer,” said Cruz, who referenced legislation signed by Obama on Monday that would pay the military in the event of a shutdown.

Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio), a close Boehner ally, downplayed Cruz’s role in the latest move. He said Republicans discovered a tactic that worked in the troop-funding bill, and now, the GOP plans to see if that strategy will work in other areas.

“I can understand the leap, with respect to Ted Cruz,” Tiberi said. “But I don’t think that was part of the calculus.”

House GOP leaders initially rejected Cruz’s strategy of fighting ObamaCare through the government funding battle.

They preferred to delay the fight over the Affordable Care Act until the debt-ceiling debate. But they were forced to cave to their right-most flank, which agreed with Cruz that the healthcare battle should happen around the continuing resolution.

Cruz even discussed the strategy with rank-and-file House Republicans last week, which led to a mini-rebellion in the House.

Twice since then, GOP leaders have bucked centrist Republicans in both the House and Senate to adopt the hard-line position on ObamaCare for which Cruz has become the public face.

Like other veteran House Republicans, Tiberi expressed some frustration about the push from Cruz and other relative newcomers to Capitol Hill to use government funding as leverage to defund ObamaCare. 

“It’s about expectations of what can be done and what can’t be done,” Tiberi said. “And I thought the defund strategy and the expectation that some members gave the American people that we could accomplish this raised the level of expectations to an unhealthy level.

“They don’t trust us, as it is,” he added. “And I think that did us disservice.”

Ramsey Cox contributed to this story.