Ted Cruz and the shutdown caucus

Senator outlines why Republicans should not fund the Affordable Care Act

Who’s afraid of a government shutdown? Not Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

“There are some Democrats, some in the media and some Republicans who portray a shutdown as a horrible calamity. I think the term ‘shutdown’ is a misnomer,” Cruz said Tuesday during a luncheon with conservative activists and bloggers at the Heritage Foundation. “It’s actually a partial, temporary shutdown. We have seen them before.”

These “partial, temporary” shutdowns, Cruz argued, happen “every single week on the weekend. Saturdays and Sundays we see temporary partial government shutdowns, and the world doesn’t end.”

A shutdown could even help conservative causes, Cruz added, pointing to balanced federal budgets that occurred after two shutdowns under former President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

So, no big deal, right? Three cheers for shutdowns! Well, not everyone would agree, and that includes plenty of Republicans.

“We’ve been down that road,” Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Friday. “We got our butts kicked over shutting down the government.”

The reason Cruz is dropping the S-H-word in polite company is because he’s part of an effort in the Senate to refuse support for any government-spending bill that includes funding for the Affordable Care Act. (In order to avoid a shutdown, both chambers of Congress must agree to a spending bill within the next two months, before the previous spending bill expires.) Three conservative Republican senators — Cruz, Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah — are urging members of the party to sign on to their ultimatum.

They seem to have the conservative base on their side. In July, Cruz introduced a bill to defund the health insurance law that has co-sponsorships from dozens of Republican senators, including Mitch ­­McConnell, the top Republican in the chamber. Earlier this week, several right-wing groups and prominent conservatives signed on to a letter showing support for Cruz’s cause.

But support from the usual suspects and a vote on a bill that will almost surely fail in the Democrat-led Senate won’t be enough to actually defund the health law. For the plan to work, Cruz needs Republicans to risk shutting down the government by not voting on the final spending bill, and he’s not finding enough takers.

“There are an awful lot of politicians in Washington who love empty, symbolic votes. It’s been one of my biggest surprises in the Senate,” Cruz said at Heritage. “A lot of Republicans are nervous about this. They’re nervous about being blamed for a government shutdown.”

For those Republicans who do support his bill but then go on to vote for a spending bill that funds the health law, Cruz has a message: “Any elected official who casts a vote for this continuing resolution that funds Obamacare is affirmatively voting to fund Obamacare,” he said.

The remark will no doubt enrage plenty of Republicans who consider it more important to keep the government running than to die on the hill called Obamacare.

Republicans who vote for Cruz's bill but then go on to vote for the final spending bill after Cruz's bill fails would be making a calculated decision. They know that the Democrat-led Senate would not defund President Barack Obama’s most prominent legislative achievement. And even if the Cruz bill passed, they could be assured that Obama would not just roll over and sign it. It is perhaps because of that reality that Cruz is struggling to find 41 Republicans in the Senate or 218 in the House to join him in his quest.

But by remaining stalwart, Cruz and those who join him will always be able to set themselves apart from the rest of the gang in Washington and say that they have never voted to fund Obamacare.