WASHINGTON — Facing an increasingly likely defeat in his tangled procedural fight over funding the government, Senator Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor Tuesday and declared he would speak “until I cannot stand” to rally voters against the new health care law.
While the Senate appeared ready to override him in a preliminary vote scheduled for Wednesday, Cruz, a freshman Republican from Texas, pressed ahead hour after hour with his opposition, comparing his fight to efforts by leaders who stood against the Nazis, ended the Cold War, or started the American Revolution.
“Everyone in America knows Obamacare is destroying the economy,” said Cruz, who began speaking at 2:41 p.m. and was still at it as midnight neared. “Where is the urgency?”
Yet outside the chamber, his colleagues worked against his efforts to block a vote to take up the House-passed bill that does precisely what he wants: financing the government through mid-December while cutting off money for the Affordable Care Act.
Cruz called on his colleagues to stonewall the measure they technically supported, arguing that Senate Democrats would be successful in stripping the health care provision from the funding bill once the way was cleared to a Senate vote on the issue. His basic demand was an agreement that a final vote require 60 supporters, a demand Democrats rejected.
Other Republicans said they saw no reason to oppose debating a measure they actually backed.
“We’d be hard-pressed to explain why we were opposed to a bill we’re in favor of,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
Others warned of political repercussions if Senate Republicans, who hope to regain control of the Senate next year, were seen contributing to a shuttering of the government. “Getting the majority in the Senate in 2014 is possible, and we don’t want to go down roads that make it harder,” said South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who is up for reelection next year. “Repealing Obamacare is a goal all Republicans share,” he added, “but the tactics of achieving that goal can have a backlash.”
Cruz’s lonely stand was not technically a filibuster. The first vote in a long process to get to a final showdown is set for Wednesday, and Cruz cannot head off that vote. And only a handful of Republicans are expected to join him in voting against taking up the House bill.
“There will be no filibuster today,” said Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, the majority leader.
Senior Senate Republicans pushed Cruz on Tuesday to give up his stalling tactics and let the Senate take its final votes as soon as possible to strip out the health care language and other policy prescriptions, then approve new language to keep the government operating until mid-November. An early vote would give Speaker John A. Boehner more time to plan his next move: whether to put the Senate-passed bill up for a vote and ensure no government shutdown or to add new GOP-favored language and send it back to the Senate.
If Cruz persists and forces the Senate to exhaust the time allowed for the necessary votes, the final vote cannot happen until Sunday.
Reid moved Tuesday to change the House-passed bill, shortening the stopgap spending measure so it would finance the government only through mid-November instead of mid-December. Senator Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, who leads the Appropriations Committee, requested the change to raise pressure on the House to address the automatic spending cuts that are squeezing federal programs and are reflected in the spending plan passed by the House.
But such narrow issues took a back seat to Cruz’s crusade. Glancing at notes stacked high in a 3-inch binder, Cruz spoke for hours.
Topics he addressed in his rambling discourse included his affection for the little hamburgers at White Castle, the fast-food chain that says its growth is slowing because of the health care law, and a speech by Ashton Kutcher.
The real showdown vote will probably come Saturday, when the Senate votes on cutting off debate on Reid’s version of the bill. If that receives 60 votes, a final vote would come Sunday, leaving the House one day to act before much of the government closes its doors.