U.S.

Cruz ends Senate talkathon on 'Obamacare'

The Texas lawmaker wrapped up his 21-hour speech against the Affordable Care Act Wednesday

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), denounces 'Obamacare' as he speaks on the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Reuters

Tea party conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, ended his all-night talkathon to dismantle President Barack Obama's health-care law after 21 hours and 19 minutes, as the Senate pushed ahead to a test vote Wednesday on a bill to avert a government shutdown.

Weary after a day and night on his feet, Cruz simply sat down at 12 p.m. EDT, the predetermined time for the Senate to adjourn, as several of his colleagues applauded. Senate Republicans and some House members congratulated the Texas freshman.

The Senate debated the House bill, which would defund the health-care law while preventing a government shutdown, Tuesday. Cruz had hoped to derail the debate, because Senate Democrats have the votes to remove the health-care provision before sending the bill back to the House.

But Cruz had virtually no chance of prevailing, since a motion to close debate had already been filed, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., already had the votes to succeed.

The Senate's top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, said the vote would go ahead as planned. Reid shrugged off Cruz' effort.

"For lack of a better way of describing this, it has been a big waste of time," Reid said.

A long night on Capitol Hill

Cruz vowed to continue his quixotic speech -- not technically a filibuster, because it could not prevent the legislation from eventually proceeding to a vote -- until he was "no longer able to stand."

He filled the time in a largely empty chamber, criticizing the law and comparing the fight to the battle against the Nazis. He talked about the Revolutionary War, the Washington ruling class, his Cuban-born father who worked as a cook and even recited Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham."

"I rise today in opposition to Obamacare," Cruz said at 2:41 p.m. EDT Tuesday, referring to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and he cast the three-year-old law as a job killer and a "liberal train wreck."

Well past midnight, Cruz was showing no signs of letting up in a largely futile effort.

Egged on by conservative groups, the potential 2016 presidential candidate excoriated Republicans and Democrats in his criticism of Obama's signature domestic achievement and Congress' unwillingness to gut the law. Cruz supports the House-passed bill averting a government shutdown and defunding Obamacare, as do many Republicans.

Eight Republicans joined Cruz on the Senate floor, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, both of whom have also been mentioned as possible presidential candidates. Cruz yielded to them for questions, but did not give up his time controlling the debate.

"It is my hope, my fervent hope, that the voices of dissension within the Republican conference will stop firing at each other and start firing" at the target of the health care law, said Cruz in a clear acknowledgment of GOP opposition to the law.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the GOP's No. 2, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, opposed Cruz's tactic, and numerous Republicans stood with their leadership rather than Cruz.

Sen. John Thune, the third-ranking Republican, declined to state his position. "I think we'd all be hard-pressed to explain why we were opposed to a bill that we're in favor of," McConnell told reporters. "And invoking cloture on a bill that defunds Obamacare, it doesn't raise taxes, and respects the Budget Control Act, strikes me as a no brainer."

McConnell told rank-and-file senators privately and reporters publicly that the GOP should not speak as long as the rules permit on the legislation, for fear it would give them little time to try to turn the political tables on Democrats or to avoid a possible shutdown.

Delaying tactics could push a final vote into the weekend, just days before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. That would give Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Republicans little time to come up with a new bill.

McConnell told reporters that if the House doesn't get a Senate-passed bill until Monday, lawmakers there would be in a tough spot.

"Delaying the opportunity for the House to send something back, it seems, plays right into the hands of Senate Democrats," Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said. "If I'm (Senator) Harry (Reid, D-Nev.), what I'd hope would happen is you wait until the very last minute to send something over to the House."

Asked whether there were any efforts in the GOP meeting to persuade Cruz and Lee to speed up Senate debate, Corker said, "The discussion came up about the advantage of having House Republicans weigh in again. And there were two senators who did not like that idea, not to name who they are."

The bill would keep the government operating until Dec. 15 and gut the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, said Democrats favor a spending bill that would keep the government running until Nov. 15, which would force Congress to work sooner on a more sweeping piece of legislation — known as an omnibus spending bill — that he hopes would reverse some automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.

Cruz' speech echoed the effort of Paul, who in March waged a nearly 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan's nomination for CIA director over the president's authority to use drones in the United States. The Senate eventually confirmed Brennan.

Al Jazeera and the Associated Press

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