by Sen. Ted Cruz
What happens in politics when one side is absolutely committed to its principles, willing to fight for them no matter the cost, and the other side reflexively surrenders on every issue? We have modern-day Washington.
Today, President Barack Obama fights relentlessly for his liberal priorities. Like the Terminator, he never gives up, he never stops. And Republican leadership responds to every challenge by surrendering at the outset.
President Obama demands of Congress: fund all of Obamacare, with no changes to help the millions being hurt by that failed law, or he will veto funding for the entire federal government. And Republican leadership backs down. President Obama demands: fund his unconstitutional executive amnesty—or he will veto funding for the entire federal government. And Republican leadership backs down. President Obama demands: give $500 million in taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood, a private organization under criminal investigation—or he will veto funding for the entire federal government. And Republican leadership backs down.
The core of this capitulation comes from Republican leadership’s promise that “There will be no government shutdown.” On its face, the promise sounds reasonable. Except, in practice, it means that Republicans never stand for anything.
Surely, you might think, Republicans can use different “tactics” and accomplish something meaningful without risking a government shutdown.
Alas, no. In today’s partisan Washington, there are only two important kinds of votes: show votes on legislation that has no chance of becoming law, and votes on legislation that “must pass.” (A third kind of vote—growing government and worsening the deficit—occurs as well. These votes succeed because Democrats and Republican leadership agree that expanding corporate welfare and cronyism helps the reelection of career politicians of both parties.)
The leadership loves show votes. They will schedule a vote on just about anything, confident that Senate Democrats will vote party-line and filibuster over and over again until Republicans retreat. Leadership wants and expects grassroots voters to be satisfied with these meaningless show votes.
The other type of vote is on “must-pass” legislation. Typically, these votes consist of continuing-resolution (“CR”) votes, omnibus appropriations votes, and debt-ceiling votes. In short, “must-pass” legislation is where the rubber meets the road.
And history is on the side of these being the only effective leverage Congress has on a recalcitrant president. For example, of the last 55 times the debt ceiling has been adjusted, Congress has attached meaningful conditions 28 times.
Indeed, one of the few victories congressional Republicans have had over President Obama—the 2010 budget caps, which for the first time meaningfully reined in Obama’s spending—only occurred because Congress was willing to use the “must-pass” legislation of a debt ceiling increase to force his concession.
Yet today, Republican leadership is unwilling to use the current “must-pass” legislation, a continuing resolution, to honor our commitments to the voters. Instead, the President knows he can send Republican leadership running for the hills by uttering a single word: “shutdown.”
If leadership is right that we can never win against the President, why did it matter to win a Republican House? A Republican Senate? If Republican majorities in Congress will acquiesce to and affirmatively fund the identical big-government priorities that Obama supports, then what difference does it make who is in charge of Congress?
In 2010, we were told that Republicans would stand and fight if only we had a Republican House. In 2014, we were told that Republicans would stand and fight just as soon as we won a majority in the Senate and retired Harry Reid. In both instances, the American people obliged. Now we’re told that we must wait until 2017 when we have a Republican president.
Like Charlie Brown and the football, this disconnect explains the massive frustration with Washington. The American people do not believe Republicans will actually do what we say we will do.
The latest example: when video evidence surfaced depicting the barbaric selling of unborn baby parts by Planned Parenthood, Americans of conscience—both pro-life and pro-choice—were understandably shocked. People on both sides of a sincerely contentious issue agreed that at a minimum, until the results of the investigations are known, the federal government should suspend taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood.
Separately, the American people are also understandably horrified by an Iranian nuclear deal that profoundly threatens our national security.
These priorities matter. But leadership’s only question for those who are fighting for the American people is this: How do you get 67 Senate votes to override the president’s veto? If that is the standard, then the Republican position quickly devolves to “we will only support whatever Harry Reid agrees to.”
The alternative? We actually do what we said we would do. We fight for commonsense conservative principles, and we use the constitutional authority of the power of the purse—which leadership has forsworn—to do so.
On the upcoming continuing resolution, we should fund the entire federal government, but we should decline to fund Planned Parenthood. And we should use our constitutional authority to actually try to stop this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal.
Specifically, we should prohibit spending federal funds to implement the deal and eliminate the United States’ contributions to the UN, until the Obama administration complies with federal law and hands over the “side-deals” governing the absurdly weak inspection regime.
But, many Republicans fear, we could never win this fight. The premise of that belief is that Obama will never, ever give in, so it must be Republicans who ultimately surrender. But, if we cannot win on these issues, with the facts overwhelmingly in our favor, then what possibly can we win? Nothing? Ever?
It’s worth noting, the next step—likely coming in December—is that Republican leadership intends to give in to Obama and bust the budget caps, exploding the deficit even further, because if Republicans do not Obama will threaten another shutdown.
We can win if we take the case to the American people. Show the Planned Parenthood videos. Stand united.
If Obama follows through on his threat to veto funding for the federal government, we should force him to defend that radical position. Planned Parenthood is a private organization, not even part of the government. That’s worth repeating.
Thus, President Obama’s position is that, if Congress doesn’t give a half-billion dollars to a politically-favored private organization currently under criminal investigation, then he will shut down the entire government. Likewise, on Iran, his position would be that he is so committed to sending over $100 billion to the Ayatollah Khamenei—which would be used by jihadists to murder Americans and Israelis, and to accelerate the Iranian development of nuclear weapons—that he will shut down the government.
Both positions are clearly unreasonable.
If Obama forces a shutdown, it’s worth remembering that during the last government slowdown, operations associated with roughly 80 percent of government spending continued, including pay for military personnel, national security, Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries and everything else federal law deems “essential.”
If Republican leadership actually tried to win, we would vote on one bill after another funding specific parts of the federal government. Fund it all, and let Democrats explain why they are filibustering funding for vital services in order to give $500 million to a private organization under criminal investigation.
And, notably, after President Obama forced the 2013 shutdown over Obamacare, predictions of electoral calamity proved false; instead, Republicans won a landslide victory in 2014.
When Reagan was president, there were eight partial shutdowns, including six before his historic 1984 reelection. The world didn’t end. But that’s what happens sometimes when a leader fights for his principles. The alternative—Republican leadership’s current strategy—is to surrender on everything and leave Harry Reid as the de facto Leader of the Senate. We can do better.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is the junior senator from the Lone Star State and a candidate for the Republican nomination for president in the 2016 election. This was originally written for Politico, but sent via his Senate office in Washington.