Barack Obama

US Senator Ted Cruz resorts to filibuster to block Obamacare

Republican Ted Cruz reads from Green Eggs and Ham and compares battle to American revolution in marathon speech against plan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 9:08pm

It was precisely 8pm and the US Senate chamber was nearly empty when Republican Ted Cruz started reading Green Eggs and Ham aloud.

Facing an increasingly likely defeat in his tangled procedural fight over funding the US government, Cruz had taken to the Senate floor on Tuesday and declared he would speak "until I cannot stand" to rally voters against President Barack Obama's new health-care law.

But it was also his kids' bedtime, Cruz explained. They were watching him on TV and needed their bedtime story.

Hopefully, they weren't counting on it too much. Less than two stanzas into the famed Dr Seuss rhyme - just about where "Sam I am" declares "I do not like green eggs and ham" - Cruz changed the subject back to Obamacare.

"Green eggs and ham," Cruz explained, "has some applicability to the Obamacare bill."

Just how it applied to Obamacare was never made very clear.

While the Senate appeared ready to override him in a preliminary vote, Cruz pressed ahead hour after hour with his opposition, comparing his fight to efforts by leaders who stood against the Nazis, ended the cold war or started the American revolution.

"Everyone in America knows Obamacare is destroying the economy. Where is the urgency?" said Cruz, who began speaking at 2.41pm on Tuesday and finished at noon yesterday - 21 hours and 19 minutes later - marking the fourth-longest speech in the history of the Senate.

Yet outside the chamber, his party colleagues had worked against his efforts to block a vote to take up the House-passed bill that does precisely what he wants: financing the government until mid-December while cutting off money for the Affordable Care Act. Cruz called on his colleagues to stonewall the measure they technically supported, arguing that Senate Democrats would be successful in stripping the health-care provision from the funding bill once the way was cleared to a Senate vote on the issue.

His basic demand was an agreement that a final vote require 60 supporters, a demand Democrats rejected.

Other Republicans said they saw no reason to oppose debating a measure they backed.

"We'd be hard-pressed to explain why we were opposed to a bill we're in favour of," said Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader.

Others warned of political repercussions if Republicans, who hope to regain control of the Senate in next year's elections, were seen contributing to a shutdown of the government. "Getting the majority in the Senate in 2014 is possible, and we don't want to go down roads that make it harder," said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who is up for re-election next year.

Cruz's lonely stand was not technically a filibuster. The first vote in a long process to get to a final showdown was set for yesterday, and Cruz cannot prevent that vote. Senior Senate Republicans had pushed Cruz on Tuesday to give up his stalling tactics and let the Senate take its final votes as soon as possible to strip out the health-care language and other policy prescriptions, then approve new language to keep the government operating until mid-November.

Cruz's performance evoked Jimmy Stewart's role in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, when the fictional Jefferson Smith collapses from exhaustion on the Senate floor after 24 hours.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, said of Cruz in an MSNBC interview: "He thinks he's starring in a movie."

Reuters, The New York Times, Bloomberg