After a respite, Cruz again questioning McConnell’s strategies

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzViral video shows O’Rourke air-drumming to the Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ after Cruz debate Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate NY Times, McCabe give Trump perfect cover to fire Rosenstein, Sessions MORE (R-Texas), who has been more of a team player since losing the 2016 GOP presidential primary to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE, is reemerging as an agitator in the GOP conference.

Cruz is questioning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Kavanaugh accuser set to testify Thursday McConnell told Trump criticism of Kavanaugh accuser isn't helpful: report MORE’s (R-Ky.) strategy on the GOP's 2018 agenda, which is to steer clear of partisan bills that don’t have Democratic support.

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Cruz, who is up for reelection this year and faces a spirited challenger in Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D), is leading a group of restive conservatives who want to vote on a budget resolution that would set up a special process — known as reconciliation — to allow the GOP to pass ambitious legislation, such as an ObamaCare repeal, with a simple majority.

“We have 254 days until Jan. 3, 2019. I believe we need to do everything humanly possible to deliver on the promises we made to voters and to score major substantive victories for the American people while we have majorities in both houses and a Republican president,” Cruz said last week.

“If we do that, we maximize the chances of keeping majorities in both houses because we’re enacting policies that make a real and positive difference in people’s lives,” he added.

Cruz worries the time for passing lasting legislative reforms might be limited given the widespread perception that Democrats have a good chance of winning back the House next year. Those concerns are shared by many conservatives in the House, who communicate regularly with Cruz. 

Cruz gave a presentation to the GOP conference last week in an attempt to rally colleagues behind the idea of passing a budget with reconciliation instructions. 

Without reconciliation, it takes 60 votes to pass controversial legislation through the Senate.

McConnell, however, shot the idea down, according to two senators.

“Mitch pushed back. He said, ‘I agree with where you want to go, but we have a math problem,’” one source said. 

It was the first time in a while that Cruz second-guessed McConnell’s leadership in front of the entire GOP conference, although colleagues said he did it respectfully.

“We need to keep going,” he said. “We need to finish the job at ObamaCare. We need to keep simplifying the tax code and lowering taxes. We need to keep lifting regulation so we see more jobs at higher wages for working men and women.”

It’s possible Cruz’s efforts to tout an ambitious 2018 agenda is intended to spur on conservatives he’ll need to come to the polls this fall.

Cruz is favored to win reelection in November, but Democrats have high hopes of taking him out and have a fundraising magnet in O’Rourke, who raised a staggering $6.7 million in the first quarter of 2018. 

If Cruz is in a tight race this fall, he might need additional funds from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is run by GOP leadership.

A senior Republican aide said Cruz’s ambitious strategy is unrealistic because it would require the entire GOP conference to vote for the same budget resolution and then to agree on a plan to repeal ObamaCare or other major reforms.

It would be a heavy lift given the ideological differences between conservatives such as Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulA Senator Gary Johnson could be good not just for Libertarians, but for the Senate too Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Senate approves 4B spending bill MORE (R-Ky.) and moderates such as Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsKavanaugh accuser set to testify Thursday McConnell told Trump criticism of Kavanaugh accuser isn't helpful: report Dems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage MORE (R-Maine), the staffer argued.  

“If Sen. Cruz has a plan that can get 50 votes, he should show it to us,” the source said.

A spokesman for McConnell declined to comment on the meeting.

Republicans control 51 seats, but with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote GOP, White House start playing midterm blame game Arizona race becomes Senate GOP’s ‘firewall’ MORE (R-Ariz.) away from the Senate indefinitely while he undergoes treatment for brain cancer, they have an effective majority of 50. 

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiKavanaugh accuser set to testify Thursday Kavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week Murkowski says she’ll wait until Ford testifies before making decision on Kavanaugh MORE (Alaska), one of three Republicans who voted last year to kill the so-called skinny repeal of ObamaCare, says she doesn’t want to plunge back into the health-care debate.

“I am not enthusiastic about that at all. Not at all,” she said. “It would be one thing if somebody had the plan. What’s the proposal? Are we just going to go through an exercise with no plan? We did that and it didn’t work too well.”

But Cruz argues the biggest legislative accomplishments during Trump’s first 15 months of office have come by circumventing Democratic filibusters.

They include confirming Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, the passage of tax reform, the opening up of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to drilling and the repeal of more than a dozen Obama-era regulations under the Congressional Review Act.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Cruz argued passionately for what he sees as a big opportunity by showing colleagues a graphic that listed a variety of bills sponsored by different members of the GOP conference that he thinks could pass under reconciliation, according to a senator who attended the meeting.

“I think there’s a great deal we can do that would command 50 votes,” he told The Hill.

McConnell and Cruz have had a history of clashing in recent years.

Their highest profile standoff came in the fall of 2013, when Cruz mobilized a group of conservative House members to vote down any spending bill that didn’t block the implementation of ObamaCare.

McConnell wasn’t a fan of the strategy, which resulted in a 16-day government shutdown, and vowed it wouldn’t happen again, proclaiming, “There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.”

Their relationship hit a low point in 2015, when Cruz accused McConnell on the floor of lying about what he believed was a secret deal with Democrats to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.

A group of Senate Republicans agree with Cruz that leadership needs to get more aggressive.

“A lot of us are pushing it, in particular on the block grant to the states on health care,” said Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow House panel advances DHS cyber vulnerabilities bills MORE (R-Wis.).

He referred to a proposal he has sponsored along with Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse Judiciary chair threatens subpoena if DOJ doesn’t supply McCabe memos by Tuesday Rosenstein report gives GOP new ammo against DOJ Graham: There's a 'bureaucratic coup' taking place against Trump MORE (R-S.C.), Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyOvernight Health Care: Opioids package nears finish line | Measure to help drug companies draws ire | Maryland ObamaCare rates to drop Overnight Health Care: HHS diverts funds to pay for detaining migrant children | Health officials defend transfers | Lawmakers consider easing drug company costs in opioids deal Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens MORE (R-La.) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerGOP plays defense on ObamaCare’s pre-existing conditions Heller embraces Trump in risky attempt to survive in November McConnell suggests he could hold Senate in session through October MORE (R-Nev.) that would dismantle ObamaCare and convert its funding to health block grants to states.

“I’ve been pushing for a budget and budget reconciliation procedures forever,” Johnson added.

Republicans who favor this approach acknowledge there isn’t yet consensus within their conference on how to proceed on ObamaCare.