Despite the criticism from pundits and jokes from late-night comedians, Ted Cruz, the intractable Tea Party senator from Texas (also known as the “Defunder”), has one big-time supporter outside the GOP’s leadership circle: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich has experienced the adrenalin rush that comes with 11th hour congressional stand-offs. The former presidential candidate seems to thrive on the tension and the spotlight that is inevitably focused on lawmakers and the party faithful when dramatic events like government shutdowns and defaults on the nation’s debt are at stake.
When he was Speaker in 1995, Gingrich went mano a mano with Bill Clinton over the budget and raising the debt ceiling. The standoff resulted in not one, but two, government shutdowns that some economists say would today cost taxpayers $100 million a day.
Regardless, Gingrich says he fully supports Ted Cruz’s long filibuster-like speech on the Senate floor from Tuesday afternoon well into Wednesday, calling for Congress to defund Obamacare, or at least slow its progress.
“What he’s doing in this context is exactly right – I am totally for it,” Gingrich said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon just past the four-hour mark of Cruz’s speech.
Gingrich cited last week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing the majority of Americans think Obamacare makes health care worse, not better. “This is a country that never once in the last four years has had a majority in favor of Obamacare. When they passed it in the Senate, they lost Teddy Kennedy’s seat in the special election, and when they passed it in the House they lost 63 seats. So think about it: It’s a continuing signal from the American people that they’re not happy.”
Gingrich said the situation is getting worse. Americans are seeing how much more the new program is going to cost them. “[There’s a] family in Kentucky that just saw their monthly health insurance cost go from $300 a month to over $1,000 a month. And I think as a result, the pressure to not implement this program is growing.”
Gingrich noted with some distaste the president’s comment during a speech in Kansas City last week about Republican efforts to dismantle Obamacare: “They’re messing with me,” the president said.
“The idea that you would reduce a decision about 18 percent of the economy – that every doctor, hospital, pharmacy and patient in America is ‘messing with Obama’– that tells you something about how pathetic this all is,” said Gingrich.
The former Speaker said that over the past 20 to 25 years, “The power of individual senators to get something done has shrunk dramatically. You couldn’t have a Jesse Helms today because of the rules. The Senate is now run by a dictatorship of the majority leader…if Ted Cruz could get to a vote, he wouldn’t be on the floor talking. So I think you’re seeing the dysfunction of the system.”
Yes, but is the GOP strategy working? Is it smart to risk a government shutdown and suffer the same negative impact that fell on Gingrich and the Republicans in 1995 and 1996?
“All this mythology about what happened to the Republicans in ‘95 has been shown to be false,” said Gingrich. “There have been pieces on this recently. And frankly because the Republicans today have handled this better than I did in ‘95, the last two polls I’ve seen show the country split 39 to 36 over who to blame. If I were Obama, I would worry about that. As president, the country expects you to lead, not just posture.”
Gingrich said he expects that eventually those on both sides of the issue will drift to some kind of collision. “I think that at that point the president will have to come down off his high horse and negotiate. Here you have the president pretending that he’s totally outside the American constitutional system and that he doesn’t have to negotiate with anybody.”
As for Mitch McConnell’s rejection of Ted Cruz’s effort to strip funding for Obamacare from the appropriations process and the rift this has created in the Republican Party: “Well, I think this is a process of evolution. I can remember in my own career when the senior House members weren’t very happy with me. And I just think you relax and do what you believe is right, and over time, if you’re right, they’ll come your way.”
Gingrich said the question that must be asked is this: “If you’re not prepared to filibuster, then how are you going to stop [the bill]? To vote yes to proceed to debate, but no on the bill itself – well, this country is much more sophisticated than that. You can’t go back and explain that to your constituents.”
He also said, “The entire Republican base is angry – frankly I would bet they don’t believe they can actually repeal it, but they do believe they want to fight over it. They want to express how angry they are about it and they want to get some modifications. Even Debbie Wasserman Schultz says in her new book, ‘Obviously there are things you have to fix.’
“So why won’t Obama fix anything? I think this is a guy who has no understanding of his role in the Constitution,” added Gingrich. “He sees this whole thing almost like a high school drama. And now he’s desperately [gone] to NYC trumping his U.N. speech and getting Bill and Hillary Clinton to help explain Obamacare. Four years into this process, isn’t that a bit much?”