Whew! That was close. We almost went over the cliff, but were spared at the 11th hour by a halfhearted deal that re-opens the government – but only till Jan. 15, raises the debt ceiling – but only till Feb. 7, and creates a bicameral, bipartisan conference committee – which should have been created six months ago when the Senate passed a budget and sent it to the House.
Sadly, that's what passes for progress in Washington today. But, now that we're back in business, what did Republicans gain by shutting down the government? Absolutely nothing. The government's up and running again. The debt ceiling's been extended. And the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, the destruction of which was the entire purpose of the shutdown, remains untouched. Its only change is a provision in the House/Senate compromise that HHS must verify the income of those who apply for federal subsidies to purchase health insurance. An important but harmless provision everybody agreed to anyway.
What did Republicans lose? A heck of a lot. They end the shutdown with their lowest ratings ever. In the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 24 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party. Overall, 53 percent blame Republicans for the shutdown. And 70 percent think Republicans in Congress put their own political agenda ahead of the good of the country in dealing with the shutdown.
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But what was bad for the Republican Party was good for Ted Cruz. He may not have achieved his secondary goal of killing Obamacare by shutting down the federal government, but he achieved his primary goal: which was the self-promotion of Ted Cruz. He seized the headlines with his 21-hour speech on the Senate floor. He has raised $800,000 for his PAC in the last three months. According to a recent Pew poll, his favorable rating among tea-party Republicans soared from 47 percent in July to 74 percent today. He won 42 percent of the vote in the Value Voters Summit poll, burying Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. And, even after the Senate rejected his plan by a lopsided 81-18 vote, Cruz still claimed victory because, he told reporters, "We saw, first of all, millions of American people rising up across this country; over 2 million people signing a national petition to defund Obamacare." (And support Ted Cruz for president in 2016.)
Not all Republicans are thrilled that Cruz hijacked their party. Rep. Peter King complained: "He's the one who got us into this. He had no strategy. And it caused us to waste 16 days and get ourselves killed in the polls. All for a guy who was fraudulent from the start." John McCain called Cruz a "wacko-bird" and his plan "a fool's errand." Susan Collins dismissed it as a "fantasy."
But the question remains: What happens Jan. 15? Will Republicans come to their senses? Or will they follow Ted Cruz down that same destructive path again? Republicans would, indeed, be fools to do so. Not only because his shutdown plan was such an abysmal failure, but because Cruz himself is such a flawed leader. Less than a year ago, he'd never before held elective office. He was not in Congress when the Affordable Care Act was debated and decided. And in public comments, he's either proven himself ignorant of the law or willing to tell blatant lies about it.
Cruz accused Senate Leader Harry Reid, for example, of successfully begging President Obama to exempt Congress from Obamacare, because "this thing ain't working." When, in fact, members of Congress are not exempt from the ACA. Thanks to an amendment by Sen. Charles Grassley, they are actually required to purchase health insurance through health exchanges. And in a tea-party video, Cruz claimed that Democratic Sen. Max Baucus had called the Affordable Care Act a "train wreck." The truth is that, while Baucus once criticized White House failures to explain provisions of Obamacare as a "train wreck," he later reported that all his concerns had been met and he was fully supportive of the legislation. For that phony claim, the Washington Post awarded Cruz its "Three Pinocchios" Award.
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Before putting their party on "Cruz Control," Republicans would be wise to heed those who know him best. In a blistering editorial this week, the Houston Chronicle, Cruz's hometown paper, regretted endorsing him for Senate in 2012. They know that Ted Cruz is bad for Texas, bad for the Republican Party and bad for the country.