By Robert Romano
“I want to be absolutely crystal clear — any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead. Dead.”
That was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) telling reporters last week that there would not be the votes to pass a House Republican plan to defund the health care law via the continuing resolution.
Something he and his colleagues might consider, however, is that that really cuts both ways.
Republicans have 46 members in the U.S. Senate, more than enough to defeat cloture on any continuing resolution that will ultimately result in Obamacare being funded.
To do so, they will first have to block a parliamentary maneuver by Reid to proceed to the continuing resolution in a manner that will allow the defund Obamacare language to be stripped out with a simple majority vote.
According to Breitbart.com’s Matthew Boyle, “They could refuse to grant cloture in the first place until a unanimous consent agreement is reached in the Senate that any amendment added to the bill post-cloture would also be subject to a 60-vote threshold. They could also require Reid to fill what is known as the ‘amendment tree,’ a list of amendments that is the maximum of what could be considered on a bill, with amendments other than that one, before agreeing to grant cloture.”
But, reports Boyle, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refuses to commit to using all the tools in his parliamentary toolbox to do just that. He would be well advised, however, that consciously voting to proceed to any bill that invariably winds up funding Obamacare — even if the amendment to strip the defund language is to be agreed to post-cloture — is just the same as proceeding to a bill where the defund language had already been removed.
Yet, Senate Republicans appear to be content with playing dumb and pretending they will be voting to proceed to legislation that defunds Obamacare — when everyone already knows it in the end it will not.
For example Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said, “It doesn’t seem to make much sense to vote ‘no’ on a bill that contains the defund-ObamaCare provision. I don’t know anybody in our conference who’s for ObamaCare, so I think they’d vote ‘yes’ to get on a bill to defund it.”
That doesn’t sound like Senate Republicans are really committed to the defund strategy. But even if they aren’t — Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) called it “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of” — there is another case to be made for waging a filibuster.
It would strengthen the GOP’s hand. When it is clear that there are neither the votes to fund Obamacare nor to defund it in the Senate, it would force Reid and the White House to the negotiating table.
While many observers have suggested that Reid and Obama will never compromise, history suggests otherwise.
The continuing resolution passed in March 2011 was a compromise largely negotiated by House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) that resulted in some small cuts to the budget. Sequestration was another compromise in exchange for raising the debt ceiling by $2.1 trillion in August 2011. The tax deal in December 2012 was yet another compromise in exchange for avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff.
This speaks not only to the willingness of Democrats to make a deal, but also to the utility of Republicans using these leverage points, whether they be continuing resolutions, debt ceiling increases, or otherwise, to achieve major concessions.
As Sen. Ted Cruz noted on Fox News in an interview with Neil Cavuto, “I know for sure that you lose 100 percent of the battle that you begin by surrendering, and all these Republicans who say we can’t win, if they want, these various pundits who want us to surrender, that will make sure we can’t win.”
Cruz is right. Consider the alternative offered by the Washington, D.C. establishment, which frowns upon any confrontation over the continuing resolution or debt ceiling. They fear anything that smacks of a government shutdown or risks default. They would apparently just have Obamacare opponents simply capitulate.
But surely to constituents of Republican senators — who have sworn up and down they oppose Obamacare — submission to a law that will force them onto government-run, taxpayer-funded health insurance is untenable.
They will intuitively understand what this fight is all about, and come 2014, 2016, and subsequent election cycles, they will likely collect political scalps, or attempt to, of any senator whom they perceive forced them onto Obamacare.
In a stark warning to senators, Americans for Limited Government President Nathan Mehrens defined the choice facing the so-called deliberative body: “The message for the Senate is very simple: If you vote to fund Obamacare via the continuing resolution, you will own the health care law. If you vote to invoke cloture on a continuing resolution that funds Obamacare, you will own it. And if you vote against a continuing resolution that defunds Obamacare, you will own it, too.”
So, the choice belongs to each and every senator. They can stand with the American people, and block cloture on any continuing resolution that funds Obamcare, or they can roll over and let it be implemented.
But they would be well-advised that should they surrender, the American people will not forget — and they are not forgiving.
Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.
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