WASHINGTON – Tea party conservative Sen. Ted Cruz delivered an old-style filibuster over President Barack Obama’s health care law on Tuesday, even though fellow Republicans urged him to back down for fear of a possible government shutdown in a week.
Cruz vowed to speak until he’s “no longer able to stand,” and filled the time in a largely empty chamber, criticizing the law and comparing the fight to the battle against the Nazis. He talked about the Revolutionary War, the Washington ruling class, his Cuban-born father who worked as a cook and even recited Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.”
“I rise today in opposition to Obamacare,” Cruz said at 2:41 p.m. EDT, and he cast the 3-year-old law as a job killer and a “liberal train wreck.” Seven hours later he was showing no signs of letting up.
Egged on by conservative groups, the potential 2016 presidential candidate excoriated Republicans and Democrats in his criticism of Obama’s signature domestic achievement and Congress’ unwillingness to gut the law. Cruz supports the House-passed bill that would avert a government shutdown and defund Obamacare, as do many Republicans.
However, they lack the votes to stop Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., from moving ahead on the measure, stripping the health care provision and sending the spending bill back to the House.
That didn’t stop Cruz’s quixotic filibuster. During his talkathon, several Republican joined Cruz on the Senate floor, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, both of whom have been mentioned as possible presidential candidates. Cruz yielded to them for questions but did not give up his time controlling the debate.
“It is my hope, my fervent hope, that the voices of dissension within the Republican conference will stop firing at each other and start firing” at the target of the health care law, said Cruz in a clear acknowledgment of GOP opposition.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the GOP’s No. 2, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, opposed Cruz’s tactic, and numerous Republicans stood with their leadership rather than Cruz. McConnell told rank-and-file senators privately and reporters publicly that the GOP should not speak as long as the rules permit on the legislation, for fear it would give them little time to try to turn the political tables on Democrats or to avoid a possible shutdown.
Delaying tactics could push a final vote into the weekend, just days before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. That would give Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Republicans little time to come up with a new bill.
McConnell told reporters that if the House doesn’t get a Senate-passed bill until Monday, lawmakers there would be in a tough spot.
“Delaying the opportunity for the House to send something back, it seems, plays right into the hands of Senate Democrats,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said. “If I’m Harry (Reid), what I’d hope would happen is you wait until the very last minute to send something over to the House.”
Despite Cruz’s effort, a test vote was set for today. Reid had filed a motion to proceed to the measure, and under Senate rules lawmakers will vote even if Cruz speaks for hours and keeps the Senate in session overnight.
“It will be a cold day in Gila Bend, Ariz., before we defund Obamacare,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the party’s 2008 presidential nominee. “A very cold day. In fact there may be a snowstorm. … I know how this movie ends. I don’t know all the scenes before it ends, but I know how it ends. We don’t defund Obamacare.”