The Corner

No Surrenders

Earlier this week, there were reports and commentary to the effect that the House Republican leadership had surrendered and fallen in with those conservatives who think that the continuing resolution to fund the government can be used to stop funding for Obamacare. Then there were claims that Senator Cruz had given up on fighting Obamacare in the Senate. Both of these perceptions were false, and they’re related.

Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor are just as convinced as ever that a partial government shutdown would not advance any conservative goal, and just as determined to avoid one. They have merely made a tactical retreat in that effort. They want to pass a continuing resolution that denies funding to Obamacare, thus demonstrating that it’s the outcome House Republicans favor. If, as expected, the Senate defeats it, they then want to pass another continuing resolution that leaves Obamacare alone: Shutdown avoided. Boehner and Cantor would like to see Obamacare defunded, but they are not willing to let the government shut down over it–and even as they announced that they would go ahead with a vote on the resolution that Senator Cruz et al are promoting, they said nothing to the contrary.

Senator Cruz understood what Boehner and Cantor intended even if some reporters did not. (Standard disclaimer.) That’s the context for his much-criticized statement that if the Senate passes funds for Obamacare, it will be up to the House to hold firm. That didn’t mean that he was going to “wave the white flag of surrender,” as Representative Sean Duffy (R., Wis.) put it. (Anonymous aides to House leaders were quoted making similar points in nastier terms.) We have no reason to doubt that Senator Cruz will do whatever he can to get the defunding language through the Senate and block a continuing resolution that does not have it. His procedural options, however, may be limited, and he has consistently said that at present he does not have the votes in the Senate. He has said that he hopes that as this debate moves forward, grassroots support for his stand will move Senate votes — as it has already moved the House majority. He cannot prevail unless the Senate eventually agrees on the defunding language, but the only chance he has to get it to agree to it is if it is clear that the House will not agree to anything else. His comment was obviously an attempt to put House leaders on notice that he knows their plan and will do what he can to frustrate it.

I think that, in general, the House aides who were trashing Cruz also understood the situation perfectly. Their attacks on him were, in part, a reflection of the resentment they feel toward him. He has already forced them to do something they do not want to do and is trying to force them to do more things they think unwise. He has also called Republicans who disagree with his strategy a “surrender caucus,” which they consider grossly unfair — and they saw an opportunity for turnabout. They may also hope that these attacks will weaken Cruz’s ability to put pressure on the House; but I think mostly they were venting.

In short, then, the Republican leaders haven’t given up on avoiding a shutdown, and Senator Cruz has not given up on using the threat or reality of one to stop Obamacare. Both sides understand this, even if not all the commentators have.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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