Well, he's done it. After months of painstaking work, Senator Ted Cruz has situated himself as a key player, the potential decider, in the Republican quest to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
So how did this happen?
The Republican health care bill introduced last month has struggled to gain traction in the Senate — it has to pass with 50 votes and since there are 52 Republican senators and at least ten of those senators are openly against the bill, it's been clear that the bill as written won't pass — and Senate leaders have been fishing for a solution to satisfy the hard-right conservatives and the moderates.
When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided not to put the bill up for a vote before the Fourth of July holiday last week, it seemed the Senate bill was going to meet the same fate as the earlier attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
The Senate bill was foundering, but all the while Cruz was waiting in the wings.
As we've mentioned before, Cruz has been working to revamp his image in recent months. That quest to be known for more than being the resident obstructionist in the Senate led Cruz to start trying to be a dealmaker instead.
Cruz stepped into the breach, offering up a compromise in the form of an amendment that would allow insurers a neat little loophole. As long as the insurance companies offer one Obamacare-approved plan in a state, the companies can offer cheaper, bare-bones policies that would not be regulated by the law.
And there you have it. Once again Cruz has managed to get himself into the perfect position — the Republican leadership may not exactly like him much, but they need him, and if his plan ends up saving the latest attempt to gut Obamacare, you can bet that they're going to owe him something, too.
Now we get to see how things play out. On one hand, if the Senate leadership signs off on the Cruz amendment and the change allows the bill to pass, Cruz will be able to say he was the guy who actually killed Obamacare.
But if the bill hits the Senate floor without the Cruz amendment, that's when things get interesting. Cruz has said that if the amendment doesn't work, he is willing to support a “clean bill,” which means a bill that repeals Obamacare and then lets Congress figure out how to replace it at a later date.
However, that's not the back-up option that McConnell is reportedly working on. Instead, McConnell has been doing something practically unheard of in this day and age of politics – he's been reaching across the aisle.
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That's right, McConnell has somehow been working with the Democrats to come up with a more modest bill that will simply stabilize the insurance markets.
Keep in mind that Cruz is the guy who once did a fake filibuster and read Dr. Seuss from the Senate floor to protest Obamacare. Fighting Obamacare has been his political bread and butter. In other words, it's hard to imagine that iteration of Cruz going for anything less than a full repeal of the ACA, and it's almost impossible to picture him voting on anything that even smells like the work of bipartisan compromise.
Plus, Cruz has spent the last week bouncing around Texas and being met by protesters at every stop urging him not to repeal Obamacare. With an election coming up next year, Cruz could find it prudent to take a firm stand and refuse to vote for anything that isn't Cruz-approved, and thus dodge the repeal altogether.
So we're in a fascinating moment of Cruz-ness. While Cruz could end up being the savior of the many Republican campaign promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, he could also just be the same old Cruz, opposing any sort of half-measures. There's really no telling which Cruz will show up. We'll just have to wait and see.