Talking Head Ted

Cruz is a case study of Republican party woes

“You start a conversation, you can’t even finish it. You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything.”

David Byrne of the Talking Heads was not referring to freshman senator and Harvard Law School graduate Ted Cruz when he sang “Psycho Killer.” But the lyrics aren’t a bad fit for the 21-hour, 19-minute speech on the Affordable Care Act the Texas Republican gave last week.

Cruz’s faux-filibuster came in response to the House’s passage of a short-term spending measure that called for the defunding of President Obama’s signature health care legislation. Cruz’s stunt could not have prevented a vote on the continuing resolution (when he had finished speaking, the self-styled defender of conservatism himself joined in the 100-0 decision to end debate and proceed to a vote). As predicted, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid added an amendment removing the language that gutted the ACA.

The spotlight then turned back to the House, which passed another bill that would delay the health care law for a year, remove a tax on medical devices, and permit employers to opt out of contraception coverage. Some version of the budget had to be passed before midnight on Monday if the federal government was to avoid a shutdown. No such compromise was reached and as of press time the government was in shut down.

Cruz’s tactics—though perhaps a career boost for Cruz—were distinctly nonstrategic for the GOP. The Texan, ignoring the reality of constraints set by procedure and time, threw fellow Republicans under the bus, likening America with Obamacare to the Third Reich (and representatives who demonstrated any leniency towards the health care law to Hitler’s appeasers).

But rhetoric like Cruz’s serves only to divide the GOP from within; performances like these play into the hands of those who criticize the party as obstinate and impetuous.

Of course, the vast majority of Republicans support the senator’s objective of defunding Obamacare. It was his approach—his gunning for an effectively impossible outcome, a kind of celebration of the budget-health care impasse—that any reasonable person should have found off-putting.

What might the Republicans have done? They might have pushed for a one-year delay of the individual mandate, or the elimination of what’s been criticized as an unfair federal subsidy for lawmakers’ insurance. These demands would have forced Democrats into the uncomfortable position of defending the mandate on private citizens (when the mandate on businesses to provide insurance to employees has already been delayed for a year), as well as what some perceive to be a special Congressional “carve-out.”

Had these provisions been included in the temporary spending bill instead of a comprehensive defunding, Reid and the Democrats would still have rejected them; Republicans would have still faced a choice between a “clean” spending bill and a government shutdown. But we’d have encouraged the Republicans to exercise reason and restraint (just as we hope they will when they vote on the debt-ceiling). For a shutdown would be detrimental for the country and the GOP alike (a default, likely, calamitous).

If Republicans hope to be successful in repealing the ACA, they’ll need to win elections. Some, like Cruz, may have believed the ill-planned and ill-fated scheming of the last week was part of an effort to win the latest battle against the health care law. But we find it baffling that Republicans would sacrifice their war to win a battle.

As for Ted Cruz (to quote the Talking Heads once more): “[he is] vain and [he is] blind.” And, while we could go on—“say something once…why say it again?”

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