WASHINGTON — Squabbling dominated the capital Monday as the government careened toward a midnight shutdown deadline. Fingers were pointed, lines drawn in the sand.
Pundits brainstormed for just the right description: stalemate, brink, train wreck, logjam.
One name was on everyone’s lips. Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, has come to personify the showdown, with implications for his role in the Senate and ambitions for president.
The blame game was well underway. The endgame? Murky.
The president and Senate Democrats refused to budge, portraying their adversaries as blackmailers. House conservatives, egged on by Cruz, dug in, refusing to accept any budget that provides funds for Obamacare. House Speaker John Boehner wasn’t ready to risk his speakership to defy them.
“It’s hard to negotiate with someone who doesn’t want to negotiate,” said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, as House Republicans prepared a final offer to send Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — a plan with so many poison pills, rejection was preordained. “We’ll send him some political kryptonite and see what he does with it.”
Texans were at the center of the fight, thanks to Cruz; colleague John Cornyn, a key GOP leader; and the largest House Republican delegation of any state.
All eyes on Cruz
Cruz’s 21-hour overnight speech last week, the fourth-longest in Senate history, dramatized anti-Obamacare ardor. But it also made the freshman the face of GOP obstruction.
“He owns the shutdown,” Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican who has been sharply critical of the GOP tactics, asserted Monday in an interview. “He was the one who said if the House voted to defund, that the Democrats would fold and the president would fold. So if the government shuts down, it’s obviously Ted Cruz’s fault.”
King was among the tiny number of lawmakers to speak out Monday at a closed-door meeting of House Republicans against a last-ditch plan that would have delayed Obamacare and canceled insurance subsidies for congressional staff.
House Democrats likewise portrayed Cruz as a prime mover behind the confrontation.
“Senator Cruz has essentially, effectively taken over the House and the Republican caucus,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House budget committee.
Over in the Senate, Reid called the junior Texas senator the “chief Senate rabble-rouser.”
“To Republicans, Obamacare is a punch line to rile up their base,” Reid said.
Cruz put the blame elsewhere.
“I, for one, don’t want to see a government shutdown,” he said.
Noting that Reid has called him a “schoolyard bully,” Cruz shot back that “what he seems most dismayed about is in the past two weeks, the voices of the American people have begun to be heard” in Congress.
Test of wills, rules