On Anti-Obamacare Efforts, All Eyes Are On Cruz

Michael Catalini, Tim Alberta and Billy House
National Journal

With three days until a government shutdown, House Republicans are handing the anti-Obamacare baton back to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Senate conservatives, who championed the long-shot effort from the start.

The House is expected to pass a continuing resolution that funds the government through mid-December, delays Obamacare for a year and repeals a medical device tax, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada promises his chamber will reject the legislation.

Whether Cruz will mount another attention-grabbing speech—he spoke for hours last week—is unclear at this point. His office says he has not reviewed the House bill yet and is withholding comment until then. But some House Republicans are clearly looking to Cruz to pick up the fight he started over the summer with Senate Democrats once again.

"This is a great way to give another chance, to give our Senate conservatives another chance to point out … we continue to win on the issue politically," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas.

Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said the House's second CR proposal should serve as a wake-up call to Senate Republicans.

"It's very interesting, many of them didn't help us with the cloture vote," he said. "But when they see the resolve that's coming from the House ... I think you're going to see a lot more pulling our way and the way of Ted Cruz."

As for the Texas senator himself, who has been alternatively revered and reviled by House Republicans over the last two weeks, Fleming said: "I think Ted Cruz has been huge. He's created a rallying point around which Republicans have pulled and the nation has pulled. ... When this thing gets back to the Senate, there are going to be a lot more senators over there who have not been with Cruz who are going to give that some second thought."

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said he expects Cruz and his conservative comrades in the upper chamber to finish what the House has started.

"I think you're going to see a united front in the Senate – not only among Republicans, but I think the bill we're bringing forward is going to have a lot of appeal to the point where we'll get a number of Democrats who vote with us as well," Scalise said. "You saw Sen. [Joe] Manchin acknowledging that delay is important; it's a bipartisan issue."

While tea party Republicans align with Cruz, others are less impressed with his efforts in the Senate, and it's evident that Cruz's overnight talk marathon left a bitter taste in the mouth of some.

"They're doing what they think is right," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a Boehner ally. "That's up to them. But they haven't been able to deliver. They said if we sent them what we sent them last week that they could get 41 Republicans and hold firm. Well they weren't able to do that."

Cruz's meetings this week with some House Republicans has caused speculation he was maneuvering to press them to go around their leadership. But one of those House Republicans, Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona, said on Saturday described that his talks with Cruz contained no such element.

"He met with us to listen to our ideas. [He] wasn't trying to impose his will at all," Salmon said. Asked if he was trying to impose his will on Boehner, Salmon replied, "That is not true."

The senator could be put in the position of deciding whether to oppose Democratic moves to again strip out anti-Obamacare language, but this time at the risk of sending Congress past the Tuesday deadline for a government shutdown.

All Salmon would say to that is, "My hope is that Sen. Cruz and everybody over there will move this as quickly as possible and get it to the president's desk as quickly as we possibly can."

The survival of the medical device tax repeal language as part of a final agreement is something that could give House Republicans and Cruz claim to some measure of victory, should the effort to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act fail.

Reid has declared his opposition to the medical device tax language, too. But his opposition might face static from some Senate Democrats, who are getting pressure from outside Congress to back a repeal. In addition, the Senate, in a symbolic move of support for the legislation, voted 79-20 in a nonbinding resolution in March to repeal the medical device tax as part of the chamber's 2014 budget resolution.

"Very clearly he could support one part of it," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas. "I mean, it's up to Harry Reid to decide what he's gonna do with this and how quickly they're gonna move on that. I just would suggest to senators, don't plan on having the day off tomorrow."