Timing is Everything: How Ted Cruz's Government Shutdown Gambit is Helping Democrats

Ted Cruz is conducting a talk-a-thon on the Senate floor, hoping to force his colleagues to defund Affordable Care Act as condition to keep the government running beyond September 30. But Republicans in the Senate are abandoning Ted Cruz and the Tea Party like the plague. And Ted Cruz's tactics are actually playing out in the Democrats' favor.

House Republicans last week passed a bill that actively takes funding away from implementing the Affordable Care Act, a measure they attached to the Continuing Resolution, the bill to keep the government funded and running. They did so all the while knowing, of course, that Senate Democrats will strip the Obamacare defunding provision from the bill, keep the government funding, and send it back to the House. Then, Speaker Boehner would have the choice to put the Senate-passed bill to a vote and pass it or conference with the Senate.

The question isn't whether these things will happen, but when. Timing is all important here, and Ted Cruz's move is moving the timing in favor of Democrats. Unless both houses of Congress act, the government shuts down on Tuesday, October 1. The closer to that date the Senate passes its bill, the less time House Republicans have to either posture or to negotiate, increasingly leaving them with the lone choice of voting on the Senate bill as is.

That's where Ted Cruz comes in. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and their small band of brothers in the Senate who are insisting on filibustering everything - from Senate consideration of the House bill they ironically support to the Senate vote of a bill likely to have stripped out their favorite pony - are only serving to slow down the process. Since it is now pretty clear that they do not have the votes to actually stop the Senate Democrats from doing what they want to, their only choice is whether to cause the delay. Time magazine describes the process:
The first step toward a resolution of the crisis is clear: early this week, Reid will file a procedural motion to open debate on the three-month funding measure passed on Sept. 20 by the Republican-controlled House. Shortly after, Reid will file for cloture to end debate on the measure. Cloture requires a 30-hour waiting period, then as many as 30 hours of debate. At the end of that debate, Reid needs 60 votes to move forward, a threshold he should reach because many Republican Senators are disinclined to filibuster a bill they support. After cloture, but before final passage, Reid will move to amend the House-passed funding bill to strip out the language defunding Obamacare — a move that would only require a simple majority.
Harry Reid will hold a vote to open the debate tomorrow. He could not do so before that time, as the Senate is on auto-pilot right now and Sen. Cruz is holding the floor and talking. Shutting him down before tomorrow would require unanimous consent, and there is obviously at least one senator who would object. Following this, the two consecutive 30-hour periods will kick in, unless Republicans agree to unanimous consent to cut the period of debate, which, once again, they won't.

That's a minimum of 60 hours after Reid successfully files cloture to both begin and end the debate. This will push the final vote to at least Saturday. Take into account debating and voting on amendments, and the Senate is well into Sunday for final passage. Sunday is September 29. After that, there is only one day left, and House Republicans will be left with only two choices: cave or shut down the government. There will be no time to amend the bill from the Senate and send it back, let alone for the Senate to take up the amended bill. House Republican leaders have already indicated that they will not take the fall for shutting down the government if their Senate colleagues won't use the filibuster to help. In other words, Boehner will have no choice but to vote on the Senate bill as is, fund the government, and leave Obamacare alone.

If Ted Cruz were smart, he'd realize that his own tactics are harming his cause. If he and his band of teabaggers withdrew their procedural power trips, the Senate could take up the House bill today, pass an amended version early tomorrow, and leave House Republicans with 6 days to exercise whatever leverage they think they have. That's not going to be possible because Ted Cruz won't stop grandstanding.

But that's not a surprise. It is because of Ted Cruz's grandstanding that House Republicans were forced to include language about Obamacare in the CR, instead of negotiating with the president and the Senate Democrats on other budget priorities (or hell, even passing a budget on time). Because of that, House GOP actually lost leverage as they and Ted Cruz have forced the debate to become binary - shut down the government or agree to defund Obamacare - rather than multi-faceted.

At some point, crazy becomes counterproductive, even if your goal is the same as the goal of the crazy. Pretty soon, crazy starts hurting their own goal. That's Ted Cruz. And that's the Tea Party.