Politics & Policy

Cruz Debt Ceiling Move Puts Republicans, Red-State Democrats On the Spot

Texas firebrand spews out lukewarm senators in both parties

The debt ceiling fight in Congress has revived internal GOP tensions still lingering in the wake of last year’s government shutdown.  

After the House of Representatives passed a “clean” debt-limit increase without any spending cuts attached, Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas), whose 21-hour Obamacare filibuster preceded the government shutdown, announced that he would block any effort to pass the measure by simple majority vote in the Senate.

“If you ask anybody outside of Washington whether we should keep increasing the debt ceiling without fixing the underlying problem of out-of-control spending, the answer is ‘of course not,’” Cruz said in a statement. “If Republicans stand together we can demand meaningful spending restraint to help pull our nation back from the fiscal and economic cliff.”  

Cruz’s Republican opponents saw the move as opportunism.

“Republicans don’t have any leverage after the shutdown, but this enables Cruz to take the spotlight again,” says a GOP aide. “It’s unfortunate.”

Some critics complain that Cruz’s gambit would force at least five Republican Senators to support a clean debt-limit increase – one that is going to pass anyway – which would open them up to attacks from Cruz’s political allies on the right. Cruz’s hardline stance precipitating the shutdown was, ironically enough, directly responsible for destroying GOP leverage on the debt limit, they argue.

Cruz aide Amanda Carpenter pushed back strongly against criticism of the Senator’s move. In a tweet early Wednesday, Carpenter described the GOP leadership’s debt-limit strategy: “Let Democrats walk all over them and thank them for the back massage.” Another conservative aide tells National Review Online: “It’s shocking to suggest that Republicans should not even attempt to offer the American people an alternative to putting the country deeper and deeper into debt.”

The conservative aide complained that GOP leadership was “abdicating” the minority’s right to offer amendments to the bill in order to speed its passage, and argued that a simple majority threshold would allow four red state Democrats such as Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.), and Mark Begich (Alaska) to cast votes against increasing the debt limit. “This is bad policy and absolutely terrible politics,” the aide says. “Conservatives are just dumbfounded at this ridiculous and unnecessary ploy.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has scheduled a pair of votes this afternoon on the debt-limit measure. One is a motion to invoke “cloture” and end debate on the bill – at a 60-vote threshold – and the other is on final passage by simple majority. Democrats seem confident they’ll get the GOP votes they need, but Republicans seem to be struggling to produce them. “There’s not a single Republican who wants to cast that vote,” the GOP aide says.

So far, only Senator Mark Kirk (R, Ill.) has said he’ll back the measure.

–Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online 

Andrew StilesAndrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...

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