September 22, 2013 6:29 pm

Texas Republican Ted Cruz tests influence with call for unity

Texas senator Ted Cruz

Texas senator Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz, the conservative Texas senator, called on Republicans to stand united on a strategy to disrupt “Obamacare” that could shut down the US government early next week, even as an key ally expressed doubt about the move.

It is far from clear whether the Harvard-educated lawmaker will succeed. But the next few days will test the limits of his influence and provide clues on how the Congress and White House might resolve two fights with serious implications: the battle over the budget and a skirmish over an increase in the nation’s borrowing limit.

“Next week is a time for party unity,” Mr Cruz said on Fox News Sunday.

Mr Cruz’s emergence and the role he has played in encouraging Republicans to take aim at Barack Obama’s healthcare law show the party’s right wing have essentially wrestled control of its agenda from its leaders, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.

It is further evidence of the civil war that has pitted new Tea Party-backed lawmakers like Mr Cruz, who harbours presidential ambitions, against more pragmatic veterans. The path Mr Cruz is advocating is exceedingly complex.

On Friday, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives passed a bill that would fund the government through mid-December, but it stripped the budget of money to implement parts of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare”.

That proposal heads to the Democratic-controlled Senate this week, where the Democrat Harry Reid needs 60 votes to end debate and bring the bill to the floor. Once that procedural hurdle, known as cloture, is passed, Democrats can strip out the language that defunds the health reform law and pass a clean extension of the budget to mid-December with the support of a simple majority.

The new Senate bill would then head back to the House, where its fate would lie in the hands of Mr Boehner.

But Mr Cruz on Sunday put forward a plan that would block Mr Reid from being able to bring the House version of the bill to the Senate floor.

In effect, he is calling on Republicans to oppose the legislation he himself endorsed in order to defund “Obamacare”, so that Republicans could then block Democrats from changing the bill. With Obamacare then stymied, Mr Cruz said the house could then pass piecemeal legislation to fund other parts of government.

“Any vote for cloture is a vote for Obamacare and I think Senate Republicans will stand side by side with Speaker Boehner,” Mr Cruz said. He admitted he did not know whether he had the necessary support of 40 other Republicans to successfully block the bill.

Cracks in his strategy emerged on Saturday when Rand Paul of Kentucky, another conservative senator with his eye on the 2016 presidential race, said Republicans “probably can’t defeat or get rid of Obamacare”.

Without an agreement, funding for the government would shut down on October 1, disrupting “non essential” government services like passport and small loan applications and put hundreds of thousands of government workers temporarily off payrolls.

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