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Cruz Ready for Next Debt Limit Debate

(Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Cruz recalled the last fight over the nation’s debt ceiling. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Remember what happened the last time Congress acted to raise the debt limit?

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, certainly does.

The 2016 presidential hopeful found himself right in the middle, stopping a February 2014 effort to allow the Senate to vote on a debt ceiling measure with a simple majority.

“In the last debt ceiling fight, when I raised my hand and objected to leadership’s request to make it easier for President Obama to add trillions in debt with no spending reforms, what I said is ‘Listen, I spent two years telling 27 million Texans if you elect me, I will fight with every breath in my body to stop the out-of-control spending that’s bankrupting our kids and grandkids.’ Every one of us told our constituents the same thing,” Cruz said in an interview with CQ Roll Call.

During the eventual Senate vote, leaders kept the clerks’ microphone turned off — a move that allowed senators to switch votes in relative obscurity and generated considerable outrage from the leadership of the Capitol’s press corps.

The official debt limit vote tally sheet showed GOP senators switching their votes.
The official debt limit vote tally sheet showed GOP senators switching their votes.

That battle is a focal point in Cruz’s book, “A Time for Truth,” and he certainly will not make the next one any easier for fellow Republicans, now in the majority on both sides of the Capitol. He says he wants no part of an eventual deal on raising the debt ceiling that doesn’t include what he calls “meaningful” changes in federal spending.

“Of course Republicans should not agree to give Barack Obama and Harry Reid trillions more in debt with no spending reforms whatsoever. That shouldn’t be a complicated question,” he said in the interview. “Every single Republican campaigned telling their constituents they would fight to stop the out-of-control spending that is bankrupting our kids and grandkids.”

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said last week the “extraordinary measures” used to avert a default should run until at least late October. The more time the Treasury Department is able to buy, the closer the battle will get to the Iowa caucuses, where there are plenty of GOP voters from the conservative base.

“If I were to affirmatively consent to allow Barack Obama and Harry Reid to add trillions in debt while doing nothing, zero, about the underlying spending problem, it would be both unfaithful and dishonest to the men and women who elected me,” Cruz said in the interview. “So, of course we should use every procedural tool we have to force meaningful reforms in the out-of-control spending. … But, we need leadership to actually fix the problem. Not to talk about it, but to actually fix the problem.”

In the book, Cruz says more than half of the last 55 debt limit hikes have included spending restraints.

“History has demonstrated that the most successful leverage Congress has to force meaningful spending reforms is the debt ceiling. … Every time President Obama and the Democrats demagogue with the threat of defaulting on the debt, and no responsible president would ever, ever, ever allow a default on the debt,” Cruz said. “If Republican leadership approaches this next negotiation the way they approached the last one, by beginning with unconditional surrender and handing Barack Obama a blank credit card, that … would be yet another example of the Washington cartel refusing to honor the promises and commitments made to the men and women who elected us.”

The “Washington cartel” is Cruz’s oft-repeated term for longtime politicians — Democrats and Republicans — who he says are beholden to business interests. And that’s why for the Texas Republican, the debate over the Export-Import Bank was a perfect moment in the Senate spotlight, even if accusing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., of lying about his intentions was a breach of Senate decorum that rankled colleagues.

“It is not that Republican leadership doesn’t know how to fight or is unwilling to fight. The question is what they will fight for. If it is corporate welfare and cronyism — if it is the Export-Import Bank, they’ll take out all of the stops, fight tooth and nail, to please the armies of lobbyists on K Street with wheelbarrows full of campaign contributions,” Cruz said.

When pointed to the fact that the Ex-Im Bank ultimately enjoyed the votes of 65 senators, while a proposal to block funding for Planned Parenthood appeared to have no shot at getting the 60 senators needed to overcome a filibuster, Cruz said, “There are always more votes for the Washington cartel.”

There’s no reason to expect the cavalry to join Cruz on a debt limit crusade. While Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, extracted north of $2 trillion in spending cuts in the epic 2011 debt limit fight, Obama has since insisted he won’t trade anything for a debt limit hike again. Republicans, meanwhile, haven’t been able to send appropriations bills to Obama’s desk, and the president has warned he’d veto them anyway unless the GOP agrees to spend more money.

One thing Cruz has yet to do is try to dethrone McConnell or Boehner.

In the interview, Cruz declined to express regret for not backing Matt Bevin’s challenge to McConnell in the 2014 Kentucky Senate primary. Nor did he back a House resolution designed to oust Boehner.

But he did distill what he would like to see.

“Just once, it would nice for Republican leadership to show the same dedication to fighting for the conservative principles … that they show every day to the cronyism and the corruption in Washington,” Cruz said.

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