Earlier today Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about Senator Ted Cruz's filibuster and the future of Obamacare. Below is a lightly edited transcript.
Margaret: I'm with the 24 Republican senators (more than half) who are against the effort to defund Obamacare by shutting down the government and/or the Senate as Ted Cruz did with his filibuster. But I can't stop myself from following it to the point of admiring the filibuster, or "fauxbuster" as it was called since he had to stop at noon when the Senate began its business. At 21 1/2 hours that puts Cruz as the fourth longest U.S. Senate filibuster tracked since 1900, behind Strom Thurmond, Alfonse D'Amato and Wayne Morse and way ahead of his chief rival in the Senate for attention, Rand Paul, who sits at number nine, or 10 (depending on how you count). It's so rare that anyone stands up for anything, except for whatever's going to make him or her a ton of money. That being said, what a doofus Cruz is to his colleagues. He made clear if they didn't stand with him they didn't stand against Obamacare thereby making them look squishy. For the most part he was entertaining, as I hear he is in his rare off moments, but as other Republicans have done, he fell into comparing his political foes to Nazis. Well, he was tired.
Ramesh: I agree with Cruz's position on Obamacare but not his strategy against it. But you don't have to agree with either -- or be a longtime friend of his, as I am -- to admire the lucidity with which he kept making his argument hour after hour. He didn't really compare his opponents to Nazis, by the way, but it would have been better if he hadn't uttered the word. The interesting question to me is what happens next among those many Republicans who, as you say, disagree with his strategy, dislike him, or both. The easy way out for senators who disagree with Cruz's strategy is to vote with him to block the budget bill, knowing that it will pass. That way the conservative groups on Cruz's side won't run ads against them. Yet a lot of them are going to vote against him anyway. Will a disappointing vote make it easier for House Republicans to drop this strategy? Or lead to so much conservative anger that it makes it harder?
Margaret: Cruz drew his own red line: If you didn't stand with him, you were not sufficiently against Obamacare, exposing his colleagues who voted against Obamacare to charges of being RINOs, etc. You wonder if the Club for Growth is making a primary list right now. Yes, some of those opposed to Cruz's bound-to-fail effort to defund Obamacare could nonetheless vote with Cruz, knowing the bill will pass anyway. Cruz would never think of it, but maybe they have principles too. They don't want the easy way out, as you offer up. I leave predictions about conservatives and their anger to you, but to the outsider the anger seems bottomless with a big dollop of anarchy in it. Pope Francis can compromise, maybe Iran's new president can too, but not Republicans with their deep hatred for Obama. I feel sorry for Speaker John Boehner.
Ramesh: It's not just hatred of Obama, though that's there. Republicans think Obamacare is a very bad law that was shoved down people's throats. It's unpopular; and yet the issue was never really joined in 2012, thanks to the nomination of Mitt Romney and his campaign's decisions. They're frustrated they can't do anything about a train wreck coming this way. But you're right about Boehner. Not sure why he stays in the job.
Margaret: Boehner stays in the job because so few people willingly forgo power. And most try desperately -- witness Cruz -- to get it. Big personalities matter in Washington, and the only ones who can get traction these days are new ones. Experience, like compromise, is a bad thing. On health care, dealing with insurance companies and understanding coverage has long been a train wreck which no one remembers right now. Everything wrong with the system is now Obama's fault. The data coming in is mixed; there's a New York Times story (out of the White House, admittedly) that has data showing costs are lower in 36 states. One of the main arguments Republicans mount against Obamacare, with great outrage, should be an embarrassment to them: They take up the cause of the deadbeats, mostly young people, who didn't pay into the system before and yet certainly got treated when something befell them. Insurance is a risk pool. We're not Calcutta. Mandates were a Republican idea, by the way, to avoid a single-payer solution to our health-care crisis. A single-payer system is the only sane answer to the much higher health-care costs and lower outcomes we have compared to many other countries.
Ramesh: Costs are lower than expected -- not lower than they were. They're way higher than Obama promised: Families were supposed to save $2,500 in premiums, you may recall. People who don't buy health insurance at the expensive rates that government regulations have yielded don't raise health premiums that much -- certainly not as much as Obamacare's regulations will raise them. The plan needs young healthy people to sign up for insurance but has made it less rational for them to do it. That's not my definition of sane.