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What Cruz Wrought

Oct 7, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 05 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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There’s no doubt Cruz made mistakes. On tactics, he and his allies chose the wrong objective (defunding, rather than delaying key parts) and perhaps the wrong vehicle (the continuing resolution rather than the debt ceiling). And more than once, he put House Republicans in an exceedingly difficult spot. Cruz misled his followers at times by creating the impression that stopping Obamacare was a matter of willpower rather than arithmetic (Republicans alone don’t have the votes). As John McCormack has noted, Cruz alienated many would-be allies with phony purity tests​—​claiming that conservatives who disagreed with his tactics were part of a “surrender caucus” and even likening them to appeasers of the Nazis. Many conservatives​—​both inside the Congress and out​—​have dedicated the better part of the last four years working first to fend off and then to derail Obamacare. Because they disagree with Cruz on a tactical issue, they’re now the surrender caucus? Nonsense.

But Cruz and his allies have succeeded in one crucial respect: The debate is now focused on Obamacare and at precisely the moment when many Americans are beginning to understand just how flawed the law is. Despite the many missteps​—​sometimes by passive Republican leaders and sometimes by dogmatic defund enthusiasts​—​Republicans today are in a strong position to capitalize on what Cruz and his allies have done.

Doing so will require a more aggressive approach from Republican leaders and a more realistic one from the defund-or-nothing crowd. The focus should now be on the two provisions of Obamacare that are most difficult for the White House and congressional Democrats to defend​—​the Obamacare exemption for members of Congress and their staffs and the selective enforcement of the law’s mandates.

The politics of the debt ceiling have always been better for Republicans than the continuing resolution. This may be counterintuitive, since the stakes are potentially much higher in a battle over the creditworthiness of the United States than they are in a squabble over a short-term funding measure. But it’s precisely because the stakes are so much higher that the politics are better.

Barack Obama is the president. More than anyone else, he has a responsibility to avoid a default. And yet even as he and his advisers have warned repeatedly of the potentially catastrophic consequences of a failure to raise the debt ceiling, the president has steadfastly refused to negotiate at all to prevent that from happening. Previous presidents of both parties have negotiated on debt ceiling increases.

A poll out late last week confirms this. Bloomberg found that Americans by 2-to-1 “disagree with President Barack Obama’s contention that Congress should raise the U.S. debt limit without conditions.”

House Republicans are planning to pass legislation that links a variety of Republican priorities to a hike of the debt ceiling. It will likely include: the Keystone pipeline, tax reform, regulatory reform, entitlement reform, and a one-year delay of Obamacare. We’re told that such a comprehensive wish list is needed to get 218 Republican votes to pass the measure.

Much better, in our view, to focus on Obamacare​—​in particular the individual mandate and a provision in the law that allows those most responsible for it​—​members of Congress, White House staff, Supreme Court justices, and others​—​to avoid eating their own cooking. This summer, after the Obama administration announced its intention to suspend the implementation of the employer mandate, the House of Representatives moved quickly to provide the authority such a move would require. Thirty-five Democrats joined their Republican colleagues to suspend the employer mandate. And when Republicans argued that it would be fundamentally unfair to enforce the individual mandate and not the employer mandate, 22 Democrats in the House joined them in voting for a measure that would suspend the individual mandate, too. Late last week, Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, announced that he, too, favored a suspension of the individual mandate.

In another unilateral move, the administration announced that members of Congress and other federal employees would receive taxpayer-financed subsidies for their health care, despite the fact that the hastily written law made no such provision. It was, in a sense, a carve-out for Congress, and it’s highly unpopular.

Pushing on these two issues, in the context of the debate over whether to raise the debt ceiling, allows Republicans to press Democrats on Obamacare on favorable terrain.

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