In the weeks before Friday’s Senate vote on a government-funding bill, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz called on fellow Republicans to refuse to keep the government running unless funding was stripped from the federal health care law known as Obamacare. In the end, 25 Republican senators rejected him, a move that allowed Senate Democrats to move the bill forward.
According to Cruz’s proposed strategy, which he promoted during a 21-hour marathon speech on the Senate floor earlier this week and in nationwide television ads, Republicans could block funding for Obamacare by filibustering the bill to fund the government. In the Senate, filibusters can be overruled by 60 votes. With 46 Republicans in the chamber, they could unite and block funding for the law.
But on Friday, only 18 Senate Republicans joined Cruz in voting against a procedural motion to move forward a bill to fund the government through mid-November. (While most said they were voting in protest of Obamacare, there were some who opposed the high spending levels in the bill.) Two Senate Republicans did not vote.
A majority of Republicans who did not want to be blamed for shutting down the government joined against Cruz’s strategy and moved the bill forward, and the Senate went on to pass the legislation because it only needed a simple majority vote.
Friday’s vote underscored a division in the Republican Party over the best strategy to oppose Obamacare as the law nears its fourth anniversary. While many Republicans have acknowledged that it would be virtually impossible to convince Democrats and President Barack Obama to repeal or defund the law, vocal conservative outside groups, with help from allies such as Cruz in Congress, have agitated for repeal at all costs.
Many of these conservative organizations, which include Heritage Action, the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, told supporters that any lawmaker who allows the Senate to pass a spending bill that includes Obamacare funding is equivalent to supporting the law itself. It would not be surprising to see these groups campaign against those Republicans in future elections.
Despite Friday's defeat, this will not be Cruz’s last stand on Obamacare. Now that the Senate has passed the bill, the Republican-led House must choose to either pass the Senate bill or add Obamacare-related riders to it, which could risk a shutdown.
While the House decides how to respond, Cruz is actively urging House Republicans to resist any call from Speaker John Boehner to pass a spending bill that includes Obamacare funding — even if it results in shutting down the government.