Congress returns today from its mostly unnecessary summer vacation. There are many important issues on the table, such as the vote on the resolution disapproving President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, but with enough deal supporters to sustain a presidential veto, that's no longer Topic A. Instead, thanks to the crusader-Senator Ted Cruz, it’s the looming government shutdown that’s dominating coverage.
Over the next three weeks or so, Cruz and other Republicans in Congress will (once again) hold the government hostage. In an echo of the 2013 fiasco over Obamacare, Cruz, supported by hardline conservatives, will take to the Senate floor and demand that Congress either defund Planned Parenthood completely or shut down until it does.
Cruz, one of a handful of GOP candidates vying for the coveted Christian conservative demographic, has been preparing for this for several weeks. Last month, for instance, Cruz staged a massive rally in Des Moines, IA where he announced his nationwide campaign to terminate taxpayer support for Planned Parenthood. Knowing he’d lack the support he needed in the Senate, Cruz invited over 100,000 pastors to join his crusade and enjoin their followers to actively lobby on behalf of Cruz’s shutdown.
Last week Cruz took an additional step, circulating a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that called for the rejection of any bill that allocated federal funds for Planned Parenthood: “The American people should no longer be forced to fund the abortion industry,” Cruz wrote. “Therefore we will oppose any government funding legislation that would authorize or provide federal funds for Planned Parenthood.”
Cruz’s position was echoed with near-comical hysteria by Republican Congressman Jim Jordan in a recent interview with Politico:“If Barack Obama and Harry Reid think it’s more important that Planned Parenthood, after what we know about them, gets taxpayer money, they think that’s more important than funding our troops, that’s a sad commentary on Obama and Reid.”
This statement is too stupid to analyze at length, but notice how the hostage-taker in this case places responsibility on those he’s holding hostage. Somehow Obama and Reid, because they’re following the law and constitutional procedure, are culpable for the standoff Jordan and Cruz are preparing to stage. Also, they must hate the troops if they’re not willing to subvert the law (or the general will) in order to appease Jordan and Cruz.
All of this insanity is in response to the series of leaked Planned Parenthood videos. Although heavily edited for the purposes of propaganda, the videos have once again whipped the conservative base into a frenzy over the abortion issue. They’ve also breathed new life into Cruz’s political campaign. The consummate performer, Cruz is eager to display his religious bona fides by martyring himself in defense of a lost cause.
As it stands now, there are no clear resolutions to the Cruz-led standoff. What we’ll see is a bizarre game of legislative chicken in which the aggressor (Cruz) knows he can’t succeed, which is exactly why he’s so eager to play. As McConnell admitted, “We just don’t have the votes to get the outcome that we’d like…The president has made it very clear he is not going to sign any bill that includes defunding of Planned Parenthood.”
Cruz knows this, too. What he wants is to make a show of his purity. The crisis that occurs in the Senate over the next month will be a manufactured one, in other words. There will be drama and lots of speechifying, but sanity will, ultimately, prevail. If this stunt helps to illustrate anything, it’s that Cruz and his fellow Republicans have abnegated their responsibility to govern. That they’re willing to shut down the entire government if Congress doesn’t cave to their demands shows how unserious (and dangerous) they really are.