The junior Senator from Texas has been taking it on the chin lately. A majority of his fellow Republicans in the Senate just refused to stand with him in blocking cloture on the bill to continue funding the government, and his determination to keep Robertscare (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) out of Fiscal Year 2014 – to the point of working with House Republicans upset at the Speaker’s attempt to kick the can down the road – has “startled” House GOP leaders, according to Robert Costa. Conventional wisdom is holding that Cruz – by doing everything within his power to make FY14 a non-Robertscare year, even risking a government shut-down – is marching himself and his party into political oblivion.
Truth be told, I’m not so sure about that.
This is not to say I’m completely sold on Cruz’s strategy. It is to say that the logic most of Cruz’s critics are using – the 1995-96 shutdown episode – is a very bad example of what’s happening today.
The ’95-’96 shutdown was a traumatic event for the Republican Party. It badly damaged the party brand, and weakened the conservative movement for years (one could argue that it still hasn’t recovered). However, the passage of time has clouded memories as to what the fight actually entailed, and why it can’t really be used as an example here and now.
For starters, the actual argument that shut the government down in 1995 wasn’t about whether or not to balance the budget: both Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress agreed on that. It wasn’t about whether or not to raise taxes either; neither side was willing to do so. Even the timing was, eventually, agreed: seven years.
The government shutdown of 1995-96 was due to an argument between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich over whose group of economists had a better prediction of revenues over the next seven years. That is not a joke. That was the argument that set the parties at each others’ throats and sent the federal employees home. It is a comic understatement to say that voters didn’t quite see the need for all the fuss.
This time, however, the argument is about Robertscare, whose popularity is, shall we say, lacking. The argument is as clear today to the American people as is was incomprehensible to them in 1995-96. There is no guarantee that voters will be upset at those who shut the government down to stop Robertscare as they were at those who shut the government down to stop Clinton’s economists from winning a statistical argument.
Moreover, as Costa himself noted in his piece (link above) Cruz is not above shifting tactics…
Later Thursday, Cruz met again with House conservatives at a venue near the Capitol. According to one House member, the bicameral bloc talked deep into the night about the CR and how to pressure Boehner. At the top of the agenda: making a one-year delay of Obamacare a requirement for government funding, and to accept nothing less, should the defunding effort continue to unravel. There is fear the Boehner is resistant to making that demand as part of a CR, and conservatives discussed ways to force his hand.
One could argue that a delay would be even more consequential than “defunding” (which wouldn’t hit mandated Robertscare spending and would only affect FY14 anyway). More to the point, Cruz et al are clearly not as rigid as some believe or claim.
Finally, there is the matter of what happens if Cruz’s effort fails, and Robertscare goes on regardless. Many Democrats are convinced that the plan will succeed, and thus end the argument. However, several Democrats have also discussed moving to a “single payer” system before Robertscare was even implemented…which can hardly be seen as an endorsement of what’s about to come. If Robertscare goes off the rails, Cruz’s credibility will rise, as he can claim he led the last effort to stop it.
Oddly enough, this is where I have the most concern with Cruz’s plan. Voters tend to respond to divisive battles – even those where they clearly stand with one side or the other – by supporting politicians who avoided the conflict rather than fought it – in other words, folks who were nowhere near Washington when it all went down. That bodes badly for Cruz.
At present, though, the battle is not really over. The American people have yet to decide if they are angry at the president for insisting on Robertscare or the Republicans for insisting it be defunded or delayed.
More to the point, those looking at the 1995-96 shutdown as an example could – stress, could – be in for a surprise.
Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal