Obamacare Defunding Served Up to Senate, Awaits Reid's Knife
WASHINGTON -- It was a rare display of Senate unanimity this afternoon following an especially divisive 24 hours in which Sen. Ted Cruz, with respites from a handful of colleagues, talked for 21 hours and 19 minutes against Obamacare.
After he ceded the floor, the chamber voted 100-0 to move forward with consideration of the House continuing resolution that defunds the Affordable Care Act. Democrats are eager to introduce amendments to strip the Obamacare language, and the House is reportedly gearing up to have the bill in their lap again at conference as the clock ticks toward the Sept. 30 government shutdown deadline.
What could come out of that is compromise language on elements of the healthcare law, such as a possible yearlong delay on the individual mandate like that granted to businesses.
“Basically, this law is a mess," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who took the floor alongside his home-state colleague Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) after today's cloture vote. “So for all those Democrats who shanked it in 2009, here’s your mulligan. Here’s your chance to finally get on the same page with the American people. Because they overwhelmingly oppose this law. And you can’t open a newspaper these days without being struck by some new reason you should too."
For most of the night, Cruz and his partner in the effort, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), spoke to a mostly empty chamber except for a handful of House supporters, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.). Freshman Democrats were assigned to take two-hour shifts overnight as presiding officer, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
"Walking into Capitol to take 11-1 shift presiding over the Senate for this pointless fairy tale non-filibuster," Murphy tweeted moments before he went on duty.
Cruz read a Dr. Seuss tale, Green Eggs and Ham. Lee confessed that "regardless of how long I might serve in the United States Senate I hope one day to be granted a letter of marque and reprisal so that I could become a pirate as I longed to be as a child." Cruz compared his supporters to the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars and compared his speech to the Bataan Death March.
Republicans Jim Inhofe (Okla.), David Vitter (La.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Pat Roberts (Kansas) and Paul joined Cruz and Lee in speaking against Obamacare during the all-nighter. Two Democrats showed up to debate Cruz: Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who also spoke during the Paul filibuster, and Tim Kaine (Va.), who decided to jump into the debate after his presiding shift.
Late in the evening of Paul's filibuster against the John Brennan nomination over domestic drone concerns, Senate GOP leaders including McConnell felt the pressure and walked into the chamber to say a few words in support of the libertarian Republican. That didn't happen with the Cruz/Lee effort, though most Republicans who spoke on the floor today offered polite words of admiration to the junior senators for their determination.
This afternoon, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) criticized Cruz for leaving the upper chamber's lights on all night.
“That same senator who kept people here all night, kept the lights lit, cost the taxpayers I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars at least, imagine my surprise when he voted for the very bill he was talking against. A 100-0 vote today,” Harkin said. “Some things are really hard to grasp around this place.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) held a media availability just to talk about Cruz's speech, saying "what he accomplished was that he alienated many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and he showed the American people what he was up to, which is basically holding them hostage because he thinks he is right and no one else has the knowledge that he has."
"I was appalled by a couple of things: the analogy to World War II and Hitler was way out of line. And then when he cited Green Eggs and Ham, I don't know if he read it, because Green Eggs and Ham has a moral: don't criticize something, don't reject something until you actually try it," Schumer said. "Sam said he didn't like green eggs and ham for a long time. And then when he finally tried it, he liked it. Maybe Ted Cruz, once Obamacare occurred, might actually like it. But certainly the moral of the story is don't reject something until you've tried it. And so I thought that was -- it sort of was nice that he was reading to his daughters, but he certainly picked the wrong book."
"But our basic view is very simple, and that is there ought to be no riders; they ought to pass the CR, fund the government for a few months and then we could discuss the issues where we might come to agreement and not," the New York Dem continued. "Many of us think that sequestration is really hurting the American people. It's hurting the road worker; it's hurting the defense worker; it's hurting our military; it's hurting just about every part of America, and we'd like to negotiate to get the number higher."
"But that's not now. That is after a CR passes."
Cruz repeatedly called out vulnerable red-state Dems in his speech, suggesting that they come over to his side.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who faces a re-election fight next year, told Fox News that he gives Cruz credit for being "very passionate about his views and issues."
"As I've looked into it last night and this morning and every senator has their views on certain issues. He obviously has one here. But, the fact is we have to move forward," Begich said.
"We have only four or five days left. This is ridiculous. The market already responded in a negative way and what they're watching Congress do. I get there are people who are passionate about this issue, let's figure out how to fix it. Quit complaining; let's move forward."
Cruz and Lee wanted to prevent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) from being able to amend the CR to strip the Obamacare provision, but acknowledged last night that their strategy is to now attempt to block the bill's passage after Reid moves to pull the language defunding Obamacare.
“It’s a shame we’re standing here having wasted perhaps two days, most of yesterday and a good part of today, when we could pass what we need to pass very quickly and send it back to the House,” Reid said today, accusing Cruz of "a big waste of time."The CR faces one more procedural vote, which could happen Friday, before a final vote expected to run into the weekend.
Lee told CNN that they are left with three options, "two of which are perfectly acceptable."
"One would be to vote on it as is. Another would be to vote on it and have amendments, allowing members of both parties to submit amendments and have those considered and voted on themselves," he said. "But the third option is the one that we are not OK with, and it seems to be the one that Harry Reid is gravitating toward, which is he wants to have his amendment, one amendment only, to gut the House-passed continuing resolution and nothing else. And we're not OK with that and that's what we were talking about on the floor."
"The fact that we don't yet have consensus on [a replacement for Obamacare] does not mean that there isn't good reason to protect Americans who are fearful, justifiably and understandably, for what is going to happen for them under Obamacare," Lee added.
Paul said on CNN that "it seems to be a messy sausage factory up here, but things seem to get churned out and government continues to go on."
"I think we should do everything we can do to defeat it. But we're against long odds, you know, we're against a majority in the Senate that's Democrats who want Obamacare. We're against the president, it's his signature issue," he said. "So what I've been saying all along is the president wants 100 percent of Obamacare, we don't want any part of it, maybe the in-between solution is we try to get rid of some of the worst parts of it. And that would be having some amendments, some discussion."
Paul said that Cruz got off-course in his speech with one historical comparison.
"You go to the 1940s, Nazi Germany, look, we saw in Britain Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, accept the Nazis. Yes, they'll dominate the continent of Europe, but that's not our problem, let's appease them. Why? Because it can't be done. We can't possibly stand against them," Cruz said. "And in America there were voices that listened to that."
"I hate Obamacare about as much as anybody, but I'm not a real big fan of either Hitler or Chamberlain comparisons, because obviously war is a different subject. And I am sensitive to people who are always trotting this up, and calling everybody this or that name from history," Paul said this afternoon. "Obamacare is a bad thing, we ought to discuss it on its own merits. But, you know, that's where I am. I think we ought to just stick to Obamacare."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) lashed out at Cruz on the floor today, calling the Hitler-Chamberlain comments "a disservice to those who stood up and shouted at the top of their lungs that we cannot appease, and that we must act, and we did act. And it's a disservice to those who did act."
“We fought as hard as we could in a fair and honest manner and we lost," McCain added of the original passage of Obamacare. "One of the reasons was because we were in the minority, and in democracies, almost always the majority governs and passes legislation."
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) declared that he would vote with the “take-over-the-government crowd that is ready to repeal and replace Obamacare with step-by-step reforms that would reduce the costs of healthcare.”
“Every one of us has voted against voted against Obamacare repeatedly,” Alexander said of Republicans. “Every one of us would vote to repeal it, but in my view, the right tactic is not to shut down the government. It won’t work – Obamacare would just keep going and we would have shut down the government.”
Speaking to Rush Limbaugh from his Senate office after 21 hours on the floor, Cruz said his Republican colleagues have a "defeatist attitude."
"Not all, but virtually all of the meetings since I've been in the Senate and we have been discussing, number one, strategies on Obamacare for at least six months. Mike Lee and I have been going over and over and over again saying, 'Does anyone else have an alternative? Does anyone else have any plan?' And there's never been a plan, and we have been talking about this for months," Cruz said.
"Well, unfortunately there's an alliance between the Democrats, who certainly don't want to discuss the merits of Obamacare because it is such an abysmal failure, and many of the Republicans who are scared of this fight," he added. "And so that alliance, both the Republicans who don't want to have this fight and the Democrats who don't want to discuss the merits of the issue, they want to make it about anything else, and the easiest thing is to make it about personality, so, you know, they get a bunch of anonymous congressional staffers to give all sorts of scurrilous quotes and particularly if you can include a little bit of profanity and, you know, throw insults, and, you know what? Who cares?"
Cruz then went back to his Capitol Hill apartment and got some shuteye.