Why Ted Cruz Might Be Right About Defunding Obamacare in the Senate

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted September 19, 2013 at 11:26am

Sen. Ted Cruz said Wednesday evening that he hopes every Senate Republican will stand up against funding Obamacare. But even that might not be enough to stop the Senate from stripping defunding language from a House spending bill.

“I would make a plea today to the 46 Senate Republicans that today is a day for party unity; that every Senate Republican should stand with Republicans in the House, should stand with conservatives and should stand with the American people,” the Texas Republican said during a joint appearance with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on Fox News.

Earlier in the day, House Republicans accused Cruz and Lee of giving up the fight when they suggested that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has the votes to remove the provision defunding Obamacare from the House measure.

But just how many Republican defectors does Reid need to round up in support of a stopgap spending measure that holds the health care overhaul harmless? The answer might be zero.

What about the number of GOP senators the Nevada Democrat would need to break a potential filibuster? The answer to that might technically be zero, too.

If the House sends over the continuing resolution to keep the government running past Sept. 30 as currently envisioned, there’s a procedural method by which Reid could hold a debate limiting vote on the bill before stripping out the House language that would defund the 2010 health care law.

That means at the point Democrats need GOP votes to overcome a filibuster threat, any Republican senator casting a “yes” vote on a motion to invoke cloture, and thus limiting debate, will still be voting on a bill that would cut off money for Obamacare.

After cloture is invoked with at least 60 votes, any pending amendments that are germane to the underlying measure (such as one to strike part of the text) automatically get votes at the end of 30 hours of debate — with simple majority thresholds for adoption. Here’s the actual language from Rule XXII:

After no more than thirty hours of consideration of the measure, motion, or other matter on which cloture has been invoked, the Senate shall proceed, without any further debate on any question, to vote on the final disposition thereof to the exclusion of all amendments not then actually pending before the Senate at that time and to the exclusion of all motions, except a motion to table, or to reconsider and one quorum call on demand to establish the presence of a quorum (and motions required to establish a quorum) immediately before the final vote begins.

“There is a difference between a vote and a victory, and we have to remember that this will not be either won or lost with a single legislative volley from one side of the Capitol to the other,” Lee said on Fox News. “This, like so many other legislative debates, might well take several volleys between House and Senate.”

Of course, each volley takes time and moves the calendar closer to the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1. If Congress doesn’t pass something to keep the government funded before then, a shutdown will ensue.