By Elise Viebeck - 09/18/13 10:29 PM EDT
Tensions are rising between House and Senate Republicans over which conference will lead the fight to defund ObamaCare.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) each said Wednesday that the task is for Republicans in the other chamber as pressure rises to fund the government.
Cruz's statement drew immediate criticism from rank-and-file House Republicans who accused the likely presidential hopeful of abandoning the fight he had encouraged for months.
The rift highlights the desire by GOP lawmakers to avoid blame for any shutdown that occurs because of demands to kill ObamaCare.
Cruz and his allies — Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) — campaigned throughout the month of August for aggressive tactics against ObamaCare in the fight to fund the government.
House GOP leaders appeared unwilling to follow this strategy until Wednesday, when they announced they would strip out money for the healthcare law in a stopgap continuing resolution (CR).
The plan would hand the fight to conservative senators, who would presumably work to gather votes against funding ObamaCare or perhaps filibuster a Democratic spending bill.
Cruz, Rubio and Lee praised the House GOP's strategy for its boldness, but in a statement, Cruz waved off expectations that he prevail in the Senate fight.
"[Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution, and right now he likely has the votes to do so," Cruz said.
"At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people."
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel responded in a statement insisting that Senate Republicans own the battle. "We trust Republicans in the Senate will put up a fight worthy of the challenge that ObamaCare poses," Steel said.
Senate Democrats and President Obama are unified in their opposition to any spending bill that undercuts healthcare reform.
Republicans are hoping that, in the face of a shutdown on Oct. 1, Obama blinks and allows the GOP to defund his signature law.
As of Wednesday evening, criticism from House Republicans against Cruz was building on Twitter. In one posting, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) accused Cruz and Lee of "refusing to fight."
"House agrees to send CR to Senate that defunds ObamaCare. Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee … wave white flag and surrender," Duffy tweeted.