Back in September, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) compared Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Tea Party Republicans to Thelma and Louise for threatening a government shutdown.
Today, it's obvious that Cruz isn't afraid of driving off cliffs, even if he takes the country with him. But Reid may want to come up with a more dramatic metaphor once he's seen the latest weapon in Cruz's arsenal: The ability to single-handedly delay a possible bipartisan Senate deal that would temporarily fund the government and raise the debt ceiling right before the United States is expected to hit its borrowing limit on Thursday.
Not that Cruz is the only one who can slow things down. House Republicans are reportedly planning to counter a reported Senate proposal with their own, which could delay things past Oct. 17 and cause the U.S. to default on its debt obligations.
Still, he could prevent a Senate plan from even reaching the House until Friday. As Bloomberg Businessweek's Joshua Green explains, the Senate normally requires 30 hours of post-cloture debate, unless lawmakers vote unanimously to waive it. Cruz could gum up the works by refusing to play ball with Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and forcing two periods of debate — pushing the United States past the debt ceiling.
"If a determined band of nut jobs wants to take down the global economy, they could do it," Jim Manley, a former top staffer for Reid, tells Green. "Under Senate rules, we are past the point of no return — there’s not anything Reid or McConnell could do about it."
Cruz hasn't committed to blocking a Senate deal, telling Politico that he would "need to see what the details are" before making a decision. The political risks of unilateral action are obvious. It's one thing to demand that your fellow Republicans stand up against ObamaCare; it's another to be seen as the lone politician responsible for causing the United States to default in a still struggling economy.
Of course, he could decide that delaying a debt ceiling hike by a few days wouldn't be so bad, writes Slate's Matthew Yglesias:
Everyone's level of certainty about this has to be pretty low, but I'm of the view that even if we were pushed slightly beyond the X-Date for reasons of legislative procedure that nothing disastrous would happen. A fair amount of damage has already been done to economic confidence, and the incremental amount of additional damage that Cruz could do with pure stalling tactics is (relatively) low. [Slate]
In that scenario, Cruz — who claims his private polls say Republicans will be rewarded by voters for "standing strong" during the shutdown — would have little to lose by delaying a Senate deal until Friday.
That's still a lot of risk for one potential presidential candidate to take on, which could explain his Monday night pow-wow with 15 to 20 House Republicans at Tex-Mex joint Tortilla Coast, where, according to Roll Call, they reportedly discussed strategy over how to respond to the proposed Senate deal.
If the House resists the a bipartisan Senate deal and takes the blame for default, Cruz could support Republicans from the sidelines, letting him bolster his Tea Party bona fides without all of the backlash.
That, ultimately, seems like the politically savvy thing to do. We'll find out soon enough if Cruz feels like driving off any more cliffs.