Ted Cruz and the Battle against ObamaCare

The visceral reaction to Cruz’s speech by media elites and even fellow Republicans was extraordinary. A few months before, another Texas politician, Democrat state senator Wendy Davis, received glowing coverage from liberal media elites who supported her filibuster of an anti-abortion bill in that state’s legislature. The same press corps would roundly condemn Cruz as a showboat, demagogue, or worse.


By Andrew Thomas | October 2, 2013

For more than three years, Republicans in Congress, conservative activists and allied interest groups have sought in vain to defeat ObamaCare. They likewise were unsuccessful in trying to prevent the reelection of the eponymous author of that program in 2012. Their lack of success with both endeavors did not breed resignation or despair. Rather, with key parts of ObamaCare set to take effect on the same day that funding for much of the federal government would expire, conservatives sought to tie the two together and defund ObamaCare.

Galvanizing those efforts were the remarks and leadership of a freshman senator from Texas. Senator Ted Cruz’s 21-hour anti-ObamaCare speech on the Senate floor on September 24 sought to deny money to President Barack Obama’s prime legacy. The national health-care measure is unpopular, and is rattling small businesses and taxpayers facing the costs of this latest federal entitlement. Cruz’s speech—it was not a filibuster per se—lambasted the president’s program. He listed the dire effects of the law and those it impacted, ranging from young people being denied the American dream (“Where is the outrage?”) to the “single mom working at a diner,” whose hours are cut back to comply with federal mandates.

The visceral reaction to Cruz’s speech by media elites and even fellow Republicans was extraordinary. A few months before, another Texas politician, Democrat state senator Wendy Davis, received glowing coverage from liberal media elites who supported her filibuster of an anti-abortion bill in that state’s legislature. The same press corps would roundly condemn Cruz as a showboat, demagogue, or worse. Raw bipartisan criticism was not slow in coming: Republican Senator John McCain called him a “wacko bird,” while Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Cruz a “schoolyard bully.” Perhaps no American political leader had provoked such harsh attacks since Sarah Palin was named to the GOP national ticket in 2008.

Some of the chiding from Republicans was rooted in partisan fear. Republican insiders dreaded a government shutdown that would lead Americans to blame them for federal dysfunction. The worst-case scenario they warned of was a reprise of the battle between President Bill Clinton and Republican Congressmen under Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich from late 1995 to early 1996. Some observers concluded that this budget impasse contributed to Clinton’s reelection later in 1996.

Cruz’s speech was not perfect. An off-the-cuff reference to the Nazis did not go unnoticed and unexploited by his Democrat and liberal detractors. He also apologized later for comparing his lengthy speech to the Bataan Death March. But completing an all-nighter of constant rhetoric on the Senate floor without an occasional lapse was an unrealistic standard. The better barometer of success was whether Cruz’s actions influenced the politics of the nation’s capital.

They did. The effect of Cruz’s speech and related efforts by conservative and tea party leaders was evident in the days following. By focusing public debate on ObamaCare and its flaws, public attention followed. Democrats in the Senate were forced to stand and defend the unpopular and unworkable measure. With everyone talking about ObamaCare, the nation and the Grand Old Party stood to profit.

This was clear as Republican leaders dug in for a fight with the Senate Democrats over authorization for new federal spending. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican congressional leaders issued a statement several days after Cruz’s speech which echoed many of his sentiments: “The American people don’t want a government shut down and they don’t want ObamaCare. That’s why later today, the House will vote on two amendments to the Senate-passed continuing resolution that will keep the government open and stop as much of the president’s health care law as possible.”

The House went on to do as they promised, passing an amendment to delay the president’s health care law by one year, and a second measure to permanently repeal ObamaCare’s medical device tax. The latter tax would generate about $30 billion over 10 years to help fund this national healthcare program, and is highly unpopular (the repeal attracted some Democrat support).

On deck was an even bigger potential standoff. There remains the issue of raising the federal government’s borrowing authority. Failure to raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling by mid-October would force the United States to default on some payment obligations. Such an event would have huge repercussions for the U.S. and global economies. Neither party wants to be blamed.

Polls have shown the American people to be wary of a partial federal shutdown (part of the reason is presumably the loaded term “shutdown”), but also steadfastly opposed to ObamaCare. Both sides dug in along their respective lines of defense. Speaker Boehner called Senate delays in voting on the House measure “an act of breathtaking arrogance” and stood firm on demanding a delay to implementation of ObamaCare. Democrat Senator Charles Schumer called the House’s votes a “subterfuge” concealing the Republican desire for a federal shutdown.

As the new month dawned, and October 1 ushered in both ObamaCare and a furlough of nearly one million federal employees, the nation waited to see which side would blink first. Senator Cruz would be remembered for setting the stage for this showdown. His oratory articulated the growing concerns and anger from rank-and-file Republicans weary of electing leaders who, when the chips are down, too often seem to them unwilling to fight for the principles they advocated while seeking election.


Andrew Thomas is a graduate of the University of Missouri and Harvard Law School. Twice elected as Maricopa County Attorney, the district attorney for greater Phoenix, Arizona, Thomas served a county of four million residents and ran one of the largest prosecutor’s offices in the nation. He established a national reputation for fighting violent crime, identity theft, drug abuse and illegal immigration. He is the author of four books, including Clarence Thomas: A Biography and The People v. Harvard Law: How America’s Oldest Law School Turned Its Back on Free Speech. Mr. Thomas is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.