Shutdown Showdown: Why Ted Cruz’s Not-a-Filibuster Matters

Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz (right) spoke on the Senate floor in Washington on Tuesday afternoon as US President Barack Obama (left) and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke at different venues in New York. The two world leaders have long since exited their stages, but Cruz kept going all night and into Wednesday. (Image: CNN screenshot by John T. Bennett/Defense News)

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has been on the Senate floor since around 3 p.m. Tuesday, delivering a critique of President Obama’s health care law — and other things, including Syria policy and Dr. Suess.

Your correspondent sleepily turned on a popular cable news program this morning to find its hosts and panelists smugly making jokes about Cruz’s diatribe not being a formal filibuster, and mocking the tea party firebrand. Several straightened their pricey sports coats, starched checkered shirts and thick hipster glasses to declare what Cruz is doing doesn’t matter at all.

One can certainly argue Cruz’s not-a-filibuster won’t convince enough of his fellow-Senate Republicans to block Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plans to strip House-passed language that would defund Obamacare. But to say Cruz’s epic floor maneuver doesn’t matter ignores some important nuance — and we at Defense News pride ourselves on thoughtful, nuance-explaining reporting.

So I put down my first — of likely many — cups of coffee and typed out a note on my prehistoric smartphone (it’s called a BlackBerry) to a senior Senate aide, hoping to get a little help in explaining why what Cruz is doing matters. Even if just a little.

The Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, made the cable television rounds on Tuesday, saying Sunday is the target day for passing a new version of a continuing resolution to fund the Pentagon and other federal departments after the fiscal years expires at 11:59 p.m. (EST) on Monday.

Democratic leaders have done the math. And Sunday is when they have determined Republicans would run out of procedural time to block an up-or-down vote on their version of a CR.

Enter Cruz’s not-a-filibuster. Pundits have accurately noted Cruz cannot block the Senate’s planned Wednesday procedural vote. But what the junior senator from Texas is doing is running — for those interested in avoiding a government shutdown — precious time off the clock.

The senior aide told me this morning that chamber leaders would prefer this scenario: Cruz gives up the floor ASAP and yields back all remaining Republican time. That would allow the Senate to finish work on its version of the spending measure earlier than if Cruz remains on the floor into Wednesday afternoon.

And since the House is unlikely to vote on anything before Monday, just hours before a shutdown would take effect, lawmakers and aides say every minute soon will become important.

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett