For a while, it looked as if Sen.Ted Cruz (R-TX) had extended an olive branch to his Republican colleagues.
After battling with Senate Republicans for much of 2013, prompting tense confrontations and occasional shouting matches, the Tea Party darling with the sharp elbows and towering presidential ambitions seemed to be getting along well with most of his GOP colleagues, Politico reported recently.
Cruz privately assured his colleagues he wouldn't raise money for a conservative group attacking GOP senators. He privately dined with his nemesis, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who had berated him for mounting a filibuster over Obamacare funding that led to a 16-day government shutdown. And Cruz even allowed the Senate to leave early for its Martin Luther King Jr. Day recess by dropping demands for what would have been another futile attempt to gut the Affordable Care Act.
But it was back to business as usual on Wednesday when Cruz temporarily blocked a final vote on a House-passed bill to raise the debt ceiling through March 2015 in a market-rattling performance. In so doing, he forced a dozen Republicans – including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John Cornyn of Texas, the number two Republican -- to cast politically hazardous votes to break the gridlock and pass legislation.
Nobody likes to vote to raise the nation’s borrowing limits, because opponents can so easily point to them as evidence of profligate government spending. The national debt is now in excess of $17.2 trillion, and unless Congress approved new borrowing authority, the Treasury said it would begin defaulting on its obligations by the end of February.
The House on Tuesday approved a new debt ceiling bill after Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gave up on efforts to add GOP demands to the legislation and stood back while the Democrats provided most of the votes for passage.
After days of political drama over the debt ceiling in the House, many assumed the final vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate would be pro-forma. Instead, the Senate was trapped in an hour-long standoff precipitated by Cruz before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) could amass 67 Democratic and Republican votes that were needed to cut off debate and proceed to the final vote.
“It was painful to watch,” Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) said after the final vote.
According to an account by The Washington Post, “All the political unrest that has roiled the Republican Party in recent years—the establishment vs. conservative outsiders who threaten incumbent Republicans with primary challenges from the right—was on full display.”
As he has repeatedly done before, the freshman Cruz placed himself in the thick of the debate by foiling a parliamentary agreement that McConnell and Reid had concocted that would have allowed a simple majority – meaning all the Democrats – to approve the new debt ceiling.
Cruz objected – infuriating his Republican colleagues who wanted to move ahead with the inevitable, approve the bill and clear out of town before a heavy snow storm hit the East Coast. After the dust settled and the bill was finally approved on a party line vote of 55 to 43, Cruz thumbed his nose at McConnell and the other Republicans who had allowed the bill to come to a final vote.
“Today was a classic victory for Washington establishment interests, and the people who lost today are the American people,” Cruz told reporters after the vote. He said he didn’t regret forcing 12 Republicans – including McConnell and Cornyn -- into a vote that could hurt them with conservative voters in the upcoming GOP primaries.
Cruz also refused to say whether he supported McConnell’s continued leadership of the Senate Republican conference. “That is ultimately a decision . . . for the voters of Kentucky,” he said before slipping away in an elevator.
Republicans who have grown weary with Cruz’s grandstanding had one more thing to hold against him by the end of the day.
“There was no endgame there,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). “There was no stated outcome by anyone other than a clean debt ceiling. We can put the country through two weeks of turmoil, or we can get this vote done.”
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