Cruz downplays shutdown talk as next budget deadline looms


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalists CHRIS SHADROCK and KENNETH NULL

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Posted on January 10, 2014 at 7:17 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 10 at 7:57 PM

AUSTIN -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was greeted enthusiastically by conservative supporters Friday in Austin. Speaking at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation's annual policy orientation, Cruz elicited laughs and applause with a scathing critique of Democratic President Barack Obama.
To some, Cruz is the senator whose push to tie funding for the Affordable Care Act to a must-pass budget measure shut down the government for two weeks. To others, he's the senator whose 21-hour speech rallied conservatives against the evils of Obamacare. What's not in question is the fact that after just twelve months in office, Cruz emerged from 2013 as one of the most influential lawmakers in Washington, D.C.
"The myth was Ted Cruz shut down the government," said former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX), who introduced Cruz Friday. "Ted is an influential young senator, but Ted's got no ability whatsoever to shut down the government."
Gramm instead credits Cruz with rallying Republicans to renew the fight against the Affordable Care Act, though in the end the health care law emerged intact. An NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll conducted during the shutdown suggested the public blamed Republicans more than the president by a 22-point margin -- 53 percent to 31 percent, respectively.
"Did shutting the government down, was that a good thing? I think it from the polls, it hurt us," acknowledged Gramm. "But it started the debate about the fraud." 
The tactic resulted in criticism from lawmakers within the GOP, including Cruz's colleague Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). "I think we all hopefully have learned from that experience and it will not be repeated," Cornyn said when questioned about the strategy at his reelection campaign kickoff in November.
A bipartisan December deal orchestrated by House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) put talks of of a repeat temporarily to rest. Although the agreement was tentatively approved, it was not without widespread criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.
"You can't get everything you want, but you can get things done if you focus on that common ground area," Ryan said in a December interview with CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper.
Yet the deal was essentially an outline. Lawmakers have until January 15 to agree upon the specifics and avert another shutdown -- a task that may be easier said than done. Cruz has been one of the deal's most outspoken critics, and announced in December that he would not support the compromise.
"This budget bill exemplifies what is wrong with Washington," Cruz said in a statement. "Nothing is getting fixed. No important reforms are being addressed. The people get little in return except more debt, more taxes, and no change to the Obamacare disaster.
"The Senate majority voted to allow Sen. Reid to ignore all Republican amendments," the statement continued. "Over and over, this is the roughshod style of leadership that characterizes this Senate and underscores why Washington badly needs to listen to the people."
For his part, Cruz still attributes the October shutdown to the president and Democrats in the Senate. Asked Friday whether another budget shutdown may await as the Wednesday deadline approaches, Cruz again shifted the focus back to the White House.
"I sure hope not," responded Cruz. "And I think it was a real mistake for President Obama and the Democrats to force a shutdown the last time." 
"Every single Texas Republican from the Central Texas area here in the House voted with Senator Cruz to keep the government shut down," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX). "So he didn't do it by himself."    
Speaking from his Washington office Friday, Doggett said he doubts Republicans will attempt the same strategy when the next deadline approaches. At the same time, he warns the next big fight could be just around the corner. 
"I don't expect a shutdown in January," said Doggett. "We do still have a big problem with the full faith and credit of the United States when the debt ceiling comes up in February."
Shutdown or no, Cruz remains committed to his fight against the health care law. He returned to the issue repeatedly while speaking with reporters Friday.
"It's the essence of pragmatism to look at the facts and say this isn't working, let's start over," said Cruz. "That's what I hope we will see both Republicans and Democrats do in Washington."
It's a new round in an old battle to start the new year.