Ted Cruz's Amazing, Historic, Bladder-Tightening Distraction

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 25 2013 8:27 AM

Ted Cruz's Amazing, Historic, Bladder-Tightening Distraction

A big piece of health care news broke last night in Washington. Oh, no—it didn't happen in the Senate. On a conference call, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius unveiled the average prices of health care premiums under the new health care exchanges created by Obamacare. The average price overall would come to $249 per month; some people would pay less.

A 27-year-old in Dallas who earns $25,000 a year will be able to purchase a bronze plan for $74 a month, including federal tax credits to discount the price. A family of four in Dallas with a $50,000 household income could choose a bronze plan for as little as $26 a month, including the subsidies. A family of four earning $50,000 a year purchasing the least expensive bronze plan would pay $36 a month in Charlotte, N.C., $32 a month in St. Louis and $24 a month in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., including subsidies.

In New York, at the same time, Bill Clinton was devoting a session of his annual charity event to a highly touted pitch for the implementation of "Obamacare." The president of the United States sat across from Clinton, chat show-style, talking up how the plan would actually work. Last night, on a much much smaller scale, Slate started getting dozens of emails from people telling us they'd be signing up for health care exchanges, after we asked them to share their stories.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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Ted Cruz's long speech on the Senate floor was tremendously effective in pushing other Obamacare news out of the political headlines. (It's not really a filibuster, as Cruz is not slowing down the clock on pending business; hence the Twitter nickname #TedTalks.) That's true of most of Cruz's strategies over the last month—brilliant from the PR perspective, rubbish at getting the policy he wants. Cruz's effort, which could last nearly 21 hours if he keeps it up till the vote proceeds, has absolutely shifted the narrative away from last weekend's "Cruz asked the House to write a check he can't cash" story. Oh, he still can't cash it!

But it looks like he worked himself ragged trying to do it. When Cruz walks into future conservative movement gatherings, he'll be welcomed like Jesus riding the donkey into Jerusalem. When other Republicans head home, they will be asked whether they Stood With Cruz, and pilloried if they didn't.

What's going to come out of this speech apart from PR? Well, Cruz and his colleagues, including Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts and Lousiana Sen. David Vitter, used the time to demand votes on three amendments to the CR. They would be:

- Defunding the "Navigators" program, the $67 million being doled out to groups that are (supposed to be) promoting/explaining Obamacare to the uninsured. Cruz described this as "a slush fund basically being used to fund liberal special interests."

- "Protecting the privacy of our information" from the IRS. The details on this were less clear.

- Forcing all federal employees, who currently have their own health care plans, to enter the Obamacare-created exchanges without employer subsidies.

Meanwhile, in the House, Republicans are already mulling over a Plan B—funding Obamacare but attaching a one-year delay of the individual mandate to the CR. Their theory is that 22 House Democrats backed the idea when it was separated out in a piece of legislation, so enough Senate Democrats might actually be willing to pass it. But Cruz, early in his speech, ruminated on how the one-year delay would "conveniently" push the mandate and penalty beyond the midterm elections. Once again, no strategy for getting what he wants, but a brilliant sense of how to make sure people know what he wants.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.