September 24, 2013 10:33 pm

Cruz vows to speak until he cannot stand in healthcare protest

Texas senator Ted Cruz

Texas senator Ted Cruz

Texas senator Ted Cruz vowed to speak in the Senate until he was “no longer able to stand” to try to frustrate efforts to avert a shutdown of US government .

The move by the one-time debating champion from Princeton, which looked like an old fashioned Washington filibuster but was not expected to derail the spending bill because of procedural rules, was a sign of the intense battle being waged over the budget and healthcare reforms in Washington.

Efforts by conservative Republicans to disrupt the 2010 healthcare law could temporarily shut down the government early next week and have raised serious questions about a separate fight over an increase in the nation’s debt limit, which will have to be passed by Congress by mid-October so the US can avoid a possible default.

Moody’s on Tuesday shrugged off the possibility that Washington might fail to raise the $16.7tn debt ceiling in time to avoid a technical default, even as the White House and Republicans remained deadlocked on the issue.

The credit rating agency said its triple A sovereign rating and stable outlook for the US was unlikely to change, because it expected parties to reach deals on the budget and an extension of the borrowing limit.

“Our rating is based on long-term budget projections and it’s unlikely that we will take a rating action based on these short-term events,” said Steven Hess, lead analyst for the US rating at Moody’s.

The view reflects a diverging level of confidence between Washington and Wall Street about how the US will extricate itself from the messy fiscal fights.

While Washington is not in panic mode over a possible default, political leaders have been silent on how the impasse over the budget and spending limit might be solved.

Mr Cruz’s stance was part of a broader attempt by the senator to halt funding for parts of Barack Obama’s 2010 healthcare law. The health reform legislation is reviled by conservatives, where it is seen as a proxy for the president.

Within half an hour of taking the Senate floor, Mr Cruz, who harbours presidential ambitions, compared pundits who have cast doubt on his quest to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of the Nazis. He evoked the image of the children’s book The Little Engine that Could, where a small train repeatedly tells itself “I think I can” as it climbs a seemingly insurmountable hill, and compared Congress to World Wrestling Entertainment.

“It’s wrestling matches where it’s all rigged,” he said. “The outcome is predetermined, and it’s all for show.”

While he had the support of some conservatives, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, signalled that he did not approve of Mr Cruz’s strategy.

Obama doesn’t have to negotiate as long as he has Harry Reid, who will negotiate

- John Feehery, Republican lobbyist

Mr Cruz may have been trying to emulate two legislators who became political celebrities after engaging in filibusters: Rand Paul, who took aim at US drone policy and temporarily blocked confirmation of Mr Obama’s nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, and Wendy Davis, the Democratic state senator from Texas who temporarily blocked the passage of an anti-abortion law in the state.

The Texan’s monologue is not expected to disrupt a vote to end debate on the spending measure in the Senate on Wednesday, which would open the door to a vote on Friday or Saturday to extend spending levels.

Mr Cruz’s mission is complicated: he is trying to disrupt a bill that was passed by Republicans in the House of Representatives that withdrew funding for the healthcare reforms because once the bill passes a procedural hurdle known as “cloture”, Democrats will be able to strip out the language that disrupts the health reform legislation.

The spending measure will then be sent back to the lower chamber, where its fate will lie in the hands of John Boehner, the Republican Speaker. A Republican lobbyist, John Feehery, said he believed Mr Boehner would pass a “clean” extension of the temporary funding bill with the support of Republicans and Democrats, therefore avoiding a government shutdown.

Separately, Republicans in the House are expected to release soon a list of what they are demanding in exchange for allowing the debt limit to rise. The Obama administration has said that it will not negotiate to extend the borrowing limit.

“Obama doesn’t have to negotiate as long as he has Harry Reid, who will negotiate,” said Mr Feehery, referring to the senior Democrat in the Senate.

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