U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the firebrand Texas Republican who angered GOP leaders in Washington with a push to defund the so-called Obamacare program, pledged Friday night to continue his fight — and said President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders will be to blame if the government shuts down in the resulting partisan stalemate.
“The only reason we might have a shutdown is if (U.S. Senate Democratic leader) Harry Reid and President Obama tell the House to go jump in a lake,” he said, insisting that he believes his push to cut funding for the controversial Affordable Care Act will continue in further votes.
The Senate voted Friday to continue funding, despite Cruz’s campaign, and the issue is now up for another vote in the House — after which Cruz said he expects he will get another shot at it in another Senate vote. Cruz characterized Obamacare as “the single-biggest job-killer in the country,” insisting that millions of American face losing their health insurance because of what he sees as oppressive new federal regulations.
Instead of Obamacare, Cruz said he supports allowing people to purchase health insurance across state lines, which they now cannot do; to expand health savings accounts to delink health insurance from employment so if people lose their job, they won’t lose their insurance.
“The difference is about empowering you, rather than empowering the federal government to get between you and your doctor,” Cruz said.
Asked whether he would accept his paycheck if the federal government shuts down, as some of Cruz’s critics have suggested he should, Cruz responded, “I have no intention to do so.”
In a wide-ranging, televised interview before a packed house at an Austin conference sponsored by the Texas Tribune, Cruz also declined to publicly endorse the re-election bid of Texas’ senior U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who he publicly split with this week as he staged a 21-hour talkathon in Washington to delay Senate action to keep funding the controversial federal health care law.
The interview with Tribune Editor-In-Chief and CEO Evan Smith was punctuated by occasional boos and catcalls, and at times by applause for Cruz. As the interview began, a man rose at the front of the room and held up a handwritten sign reading, “Turn Your Back on Cruz.”
“He’s a friend. … We disagreed on this one,” Cruz said of Cornyn, who joined other Senate GOP leaders earlier this week in harshly criticizing Cruz’s tactics that they said could force a federal government shutdown if time runs out to pass a spending bill.
Cornyn then suffered angry backlash from tea party activists who have threatened to support a Republican primary challenger.
“Texans are perfectly capable of assessing every politician,” Cruz said.
Smith pressed Cruz: Why not endorse Cornyn?
“You could put a stop to this by endorsing him,” he said. “Will you do it?”
Cruz responded, “I’m going to stay out of other people’s primaries.”
He took the same position when asked about the Texas lieutenant governor race, in which incumbent David Dewhurst — who Cruz trounced last summer to win the U.S. Senate seat — is facing three GOP challengers who are questioning Dewhurst’s conservative credentials.
“I have always liked David Dewhurst. … The other individuals running, I know them all, I like them. I don’t know what’s going to happen in that race. I’m going to stay out of it,” Cruz said.
During the hourlong session, with Cruz in Washington and Smith onstage at a University of Texas conference center, the senator declined to rule out a run for president in 2016 — on a day when a new poll showed him the leading contender among potential Republican voters. Cruz said he is concentrating on the fight over Obamacare now going on in Congress.
“I put very little stock in polls,” Cruz said, noting that when he ran for Senate last year polls showed his chances as slim — in a race that he eventually won handily.