“Vote No; Hope Yes.”
Sen. Ted Cruz didn't want to let McConnell and the rest of the Senate GOP Conference get away with this approach. Cruz and allies say this maneuver is all about misleading the conservative base. If Republicans really oppose a suspension of the debt limit, then they should use the filibuster to block it. Republicans who are fine with such a suspension, Cruz reasons, ought to vote for it.
But the Tea Partiers also use this Vote No; Hope Yes strategy.
I first encountered Vote No; Hope Yes during the debt-limit showdown last October. The government had been shut down for more than two weeks, and the Treasury was a few hours from crashing into the debt ceiling. A clean debt-limit hike was on the table -- no spending cuts, no budget reforms.
A conservative House member told me he and many GOP colleagues “just want(ed) this to be over.”
But that very congressman voted No. He wanted the debt limit increased, he just didn’t want to vote to increase it.
It’s an odd stance for a lawmaker: If you want something to pass, it would seem logical to vote for it.
But Vote No; Hope Yes has featured prominently in Tea Party tactics. These days, you'll hear Cruz and Mike Lee, along with Heritage Action and the Club For Growth, praising and defending automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. But when sequestration passed, the Tea Party warriors voted against it as a sellout compared to their balanced-budget plan. Lee, Jim DeMint, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, and Rand Paul all voted no on sequestration. But they were all glad it became law.
It’s the liberty of back-benchers in a party out of power.
But Vote No; Hope Yes isn’t a game only Tea Partiers play. The Republican leadership and GOP mainstream also do it. And last week, Cruz exposed them for playing it.
With congressional recess looming, followed by the debt limit right afterwards, GOP senators met at the Feb. 11 members' lunch to discuss how to proceed. The leadership's plan: stay silent when Majority Leader Harry Reid asked for a unanimous consent motion to proceed to a free debt-limit hike -- thus relinquishing the chance to filibuster.
Then, when the debt bill came up, all 45 Republican senators would vote against it, deriding Democrats for expanding our debt with no budget reforms.
You see, almost no Republican senators really want to crash into the debt limit -- that could trigger default on the debt, and would almost certainly trigger market panic. Most of them also don't want another round in the ring with Harry Reid. But at the same time, Republicans want to pin the debt on Democrats.
Finally, Republicans facing Tea Party primaries — most notably McConnell — didn’t want their hands dirtied by voting to allow a debt-limit hike.
In brief, the GOP leadership’s strategy was Vote No; Hope Yes.
But one of the central aims of Tea Party entities in Washington -- Ted Cruz's office and Heritage Action to name two -- is preventing exactly this sort of feigned fight for conservatism.
So Cruz, in the Tuesday meeting, said no. He would object to a unanimous consent request. If the Democrats want an up-or-down vote on the debt limit, make them first find 60 votes to invoke cloture.
Cruz’s colleagues asked what his strategy was for winning another protracted debt-limit fight. Cruz said there would be no fight, because he was sure five Republicans would join the 55 Democrats in supporting cloture.
So Sen. Saxby Chambliss checked. He asked all 45 Republicans, who's willing to walk the plank and be the five votes for cloture? Not a single senator raised his hand.
So most Republicans wanted to allow Democrats to suspend the debt limit, but not one was happy voting to end a filibuster.
In the end, 12 Republicans, including the entire GOP leadership, voted yea on cloture. Then every Republican voted nay on passing the bill.
Democrats played this game last decade -- railing against debt-limit hikes (think Senator Obama) and holding votes to defund the Iraq war -- while happily letting the GOP win in the end. The result: a pacified Democratic base, and Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008.
McConnell would like to repeat that play. Cruz won't let him.Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.