Tax Analysts Blog

Cruz’s Push to Defund Obamacare Could Derail Tax Reform

Posted on Aug 26, 2013
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is pushing to defund Obamacare. That isn’t terribly surprising. Cruz is part of a group of conservative lawmakers that has tried to force the Republican Party into deeper opposition to President Obama’s policies. He doesn’t seem to believe in compromise, and he frequently denounces the administration’s policies in the most vitriolic terms. He’s also positioning himself for a possible run for president in 2016. The Texas senator’s quest to scrap Obamacare is coming to a head because of the imminent need for an increase in the nation’s borrowing limit and the expiration of the continuing resolution that funds government operations. If Cruz and his allies succeed in making the debt ceiling and continuing resolution debate all about Obamacare, he could scuttle whatever tax reform discussions are taking place, while still failing to dent the healthcare reform law.

Cruz doesn’t have the votes to repeal or defund Obamacare in the Senate. He conceded as much over the weekend. But he does think that public opposition to the law is growing. He predicted that if a “grass-roots tsunami” developed behind his plan to pass a budget resolution that zeroes out funding for healthcare reform, Congress would be forced to respond. When Candy Crowley pressed him on the fact that even if such a law passed Congress, Obama would never sign it, Cruz replied, “I am not at all convinced of that.” Apparently he thinks even less of Obama’s resolve than he does of the president’s ideology.

Cruz isn’t even the most radical of congressional opponents to the Affordable Care Act. Two conservative Republicans, Reps. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Jason Chaffetz of Utah, announced in June that they would not assist voters who phoned in with questions about how to enroll in the exchanges or qualify for the subsidies. Cruz told Crowley he didn’t support that, saying that his duty is to aid his 26 million Texas constituents. It’s difficult to see how Huelskamp and Chaffetz’s refusal to aid people in their districts in complying with the law will help anyone, but passions on heathcare reform can run high among the hard right.

Why is this significant for Dave Camp and Max Baucus’s push for tax reform? Cruz and others in Congress want to use the series of crises in the fall to force Democrats to concede on Obamacare. Congress must pass both a continuing resolution and an increase in the borrowing limit in short order. Cruz has specifically mentioned the threat of a government shutdown, something that House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, warned would hurt the party. If Republicans try to hold the government hostage over Obamacare, will there be enough oxygen for tax reform discussions to continue? It’s hard to see how. And if Republicans force another partisan showdown over what many see as necessary government business, will there be any bipartisan spirit left?

Camp and Baucus would argue that tax reform is separate from the budget and debt ceiling negotiations. They are right, of course. Their attempts to draft a major overhaul of the tax system have little to do with partisan rancor over Obamacare or the debt limit. But everything in Washington is linked, and Congress has only so much time. If Cruz spends September poisoning the well over Obamacare, tax reform might simply wither on the vine – choked off by a return of hyperpartisanship.

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