After spending the past few months spearheading the effort to defund Obamacare, Sen. Ted Cruz relented Wednesday, saying he would not get in the way of a bipartisan spending bill that reopens the federal government and increases the nation’s borrowing limit.
The announcement marked the end of a tumultuous three-month span of highs and lows for Mr. Cruz, who bolstered his stock among grass-roots conservatives and tea partyers, but also drew the ire of lawmakers who said his no-holds-barred legislative approach was sullying the Republican brand and pushing the nation to the bring of an economic crisis.
For the Texas Republican, the effort was worth it.
“The politics of Washington at the end of the day doesn’t matter,” Mr. Cruz said. “What the focus should be is on making Washington, D.C., listen to the American people and respond to the very real harms that Obamacare is causing to millions of people.”
Some breathed a sigh of relief, saying that Mr. Cruz has taken the focus away from Obamacare’s failures and the broader Republican push to reduce spending by reshaping entitlement programs.
“It has been a disaster,” said former Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican. “It has put our party back a long way.”
Indeed, polls show that Republicans are bearing more of the blame than President Obama for the government shutdown, and that most opposed Mr. Cruz’s strategy of linking the shutdown to dismantling Obamacare.
Michael McKenna, a Republican strategist who advises some members of Congress, said the party maybe could have won if it had gone for a smaller slice of Obamacare, such as a delay in the individual mandate. But by insisting on killing the entire law, Mr. Cruz overshot and squandered the party’s leverage.
“The real problem is that nobody could put a leash on Cruz, and nobody could explain to all his people why this was such a crummy idea,” he said.
Mr. Cruz ramped up pressure on lawmakers over the summer to torpedo any spending bills that funded the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Three weeks ago, he led a 21-hour filibuster against giving Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid the ability to fully fund Obamacare.
Slices of the Republican base loved it — as evidenced by his win in a presidential straw poll at the Values Voter Summit this past weekend in Washington and the nearly $1.2 million he raised during the third fundraising quarter of the year.
Some Republicans, though, warned that his strategy was doomed to fail because President Obama and Capitol Hill Democrats never would agree to stop his signature domestic achievement.
When the effort failed in the Senate, Mr. Cruz turned to his allies in the Republican-controlled House, who took a piecemeal approach to funding government operations in hopes of withholding funding Obamacare funding.
But that effort collapsed Tuesday after conservatives balked at a plan cobbled together by House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, that would have reopened the government, and raised the debt limit, while delaying an unpopular Obamacare tax and banning health care subsidies for members of Congress, the president and his Cabinet.
Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist, said that the Cruz approach could come back to haunt it in the next spending battle and the 2014 election.
“All or nothing was really a dumb move,” Mr. O’Connell said. “Because they decided to shoot for the moon, they came out the loser, the GOP brand is at an all-time low and somehow Obamacare has increased in public favorability.”
Mr. Cruz, though, struck a defiant note Wednesday, criticizing members of both parties for reaching a bipartisan deal to fund government operations and Obamacare.
“Unfortunately, once again, it appears the Washington establishment is refusing to listen to the American people,” he said, adding, “The House of Representatives has taken a bold stance listening to the American people. But unfortunately, the United States Senate has refused to do likewise.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, said she never supported Mr. Cruz’s strategy and took umbrage with his assertion that she and other Senators who backed the bipartisan deal were out of step with the public.
“I have been listening to people in New Hampshire, and I’ve had a lot of people that feel as passionate as I do about repealing Obamacare that have said to me that they don’t see how this is going to succeed,” Mrs. Ayotte said of the Cruz-led approach. “So, I think we can both oppose Obamacare, but we can have a legitimate disagreement over a strategy on how to move forward”
“If we learned nothing else from this whole exercise, I hope we learn that we shouldn’t get behind a strategy that cannot succeed,” she added.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said he has a different sense than Mr. Cruz of what the American public wants from Congress.”Every reputable poll that I know of says that the American people are blaming us for the shutdown of the government, and they don’t want the government shutdown — but everybody is entitled to their opinion,” Mr. McCain said.
“I hope we learned a lesson,” he said. “As you know I predicted it three weeks ago, I said I know how the movie ends — and I wish I was wrong.