Cruz filibusters in vain

By Lucas Coughlin

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Viewers of C-SPAN (all 25 of them) were privy to some uncharacteristically compelling television last week when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex) stood before the Senate and the nation to filibuster a continuing resolution to fund the federal government past Oct. 17, the deadline for Congress to pass a new budget.

Cruz, an emerging Republican leader despite his political inexperience, has been at the vanguard of the recent fight to pass a budget resolution that defunds the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. His filibuster sought to delay the inevitable defeat in the Senate of a House resolution doing just that.

Cruz’s stated ambition, to defund and thereby repeal President Barack Obama’s only major legislative achievement, was doomed from the start. A Democrat-controlled Senate obsequious to the president would never vote to defund the Affordable Care Act despite its increasing unpopularity. Even if Cruz were able to stall a budget until past the deadline, the backlash would be overwhelmingly negative toward the Republican Party and force capitulation to the president’s will.

During the last government shutdown in 1995, popular sentiment reversed on the then-surging Republicans and propelled Bill Clinton to re-election. The defund tactic also aggravated an already palpable rift between Senate Republicans, whose longtime stalwarts John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Cornyn have denounced Cruz’s strategy. Younger conservative Senators like Marco Rubio, Mike Lee and Rand Paul, who have repeatedly drawn the ire of the Republican “establishment,” stood in favor of the filibuster.

Arguing intransigently in favor of a hopeless bill that divides his party seems like a confusing route for Cruz to pursue. Even hardline opponents of Obamacare like Paul Ryan have spoken against the threat of a government shutdown. The threat of a government shutdown in 2011 sparked a historic decrease in the U.S. credit rating, causing national embarrassment and economic repercussions.

So why would Cruz seemingly risk party unity, his own reputation and the full faith and credit of the United States for a strategy without a prayer of success? It is a matter of policy and politics.

Cruz’s opposition to the new healthcare law is hardly baseless. Opposition to the law sparked the massive congressional gains of the Republicans in the midterm elections of 2010, and Gallup polls show that more than half of all Americans want to see the bill partially or entirely repealed. The individual mandate, integral in the new law, works essentially by subsidizing the sick at the expense of the healthy. The young people, being the healthiest demographic, are going to see their premiums rise by an average of 99 percent for men and 62 percent for women (per the Manhattan Institute). Many will feel the effect of the new taxes and care-rationing imposed by the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which the American Medical Association has vocally opposed.

Cruz’s battle is not against an overwhelmingly popular or effective piece of legislation, and his longstanding philosophical opposition to such a fundamental reconstruction of the relationship between government and citizen is a major reason for his popularity with the right.

But those following coverage of Cruz’s antics have likely noticed something that goes beyond questions of policy. Self-described “movement conservatives” within the political and journalistic spheres have largely coalesced around Cruz, just as many did around Paul when he filibustered the nomination of CIA head John Brennan.

Filibustering, although previously considered a puerile parliamentary maneuver, has become an act of ideological martyrdom and tacit acknowledgement of the filibusterers’ own ambition. Sen. Wendy Davis of Texas not only became a folk hero for the left when she filibustered a bill to restrict abortion in Texas, but the murmurs of her as a candidate for the soon-to-be-vacant governor’s seat began conspicuously soon after. There is no question that both Cruz and Paul are actively seeking the White House, and both increased their bona-fides among their respective bases with their acts of filibuster. But while Paul’s libertarian, anti-drone filibuster angered Conservatives who seek a strong hand on foreign policy, Cruz stood against a law that virtually all Republicans, and in fact many Democrats, oppose.

With his “defund” effort, Cruz has built around himself the basic infrastructure of an upstart presidential campaign, accruing all the right friends and all the right enemies. And he has positioned himself as an ideological purist ready to stand up to the left as well as the “old guard” within his own party. Getting the media to depict him as quixotic and naive is his most shrewd move of all.

Lucas Coughlin is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected].