WASHINGTON (AP) — A conservative senator delivered an old-style speaking marathon over President Barack Obama's health care law on Tuesday, even though fellow Republicans urged him to back down for fear of a possible government shutdown in a week.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz vowed to speak until he's "no longer able to stand," and filled the time in a largely empty chamber, criticizing the law and comparing the fight to the battle against the Nazis. He talked about the Revolutionary War, the Washington ruling class, his Cuban-born father who worked as a cook and even recited Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham."
"I rise today in opposition to Obamacare," Cruz said at 2:41 p.m. EDT (1841 GMT), and he cast the 3-year-old law as a job killer and a "liberal train wreck." Nine hours later he was showing no signs of letting up.
Egged on by conservative groups, the potential 2016 presidential candidate and favorite of the ultraconservative tea party movement excoriated Republicans and Democrats in his criticism of Obama's signature domestic achievement and Congress' unwillingness to gut the law. Cruz supports the House-passed bill that would avert a government shutdown and defund Obamacare, as do many Republicans. The bill would keep the government operating until Dec. 15.
However, they lack the votes to stop Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from moving ahead on the measure, stripping the health care defunding provision and sending the spending bill back to the House. That didn't stop Cruz' quixotic filibuster. During his talkathon, eight Republican senators joined Cruz on the Senate floor, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, both of whom have been mentioned as possible presidential candidates. Cruz yielded to them for questions but did not give up his time controlling the debate.
"It is my hope, my fervent hope, that the voices of dissension within the Republican conference will stop firing at each other and start firing" at the target of the health care law, Cruz said, a clear acknowledgment of the opposition he faced.
The issue has roiled the Republican Party, exacerbating the divide between tea party conservatives and Republican incumbents who repeatedly have voted against the health care law but now find themselves on the defensive. Republican senators said defunding Obamacare simply won't happen with a Democratic president and Democrats controlling the Senate.
Democrats calculate that the public will blame Republicans for any interruption in government services or benefits, as it did in 1995-96 in the last shutdown confrontation that resembles the current one.
Both parties are using the health care reform issue to try to gain an edge in the 2014 elections when control of both houses of Congress will be at stake.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, opposed Cruz' tactic, and numerous Republicans stood with their leadership rather than Cruz.
Delaying tactics could push a final vote into the weekend, just days before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. That would give Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans little time to come up with a new temporary spending bill needed to avert a partial government shutdown.
McConnell told reporters that if the House doesn't get a Senate-passed bill until Monday, lawmakers there would be in a tough spot.
Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, said Democrats favor a spending bill that would keep the government running until Nov. 15, which would force Congress to work sooner on a more sweeping piece of legislation — known as an omnibus spending bill — that he hopes would reverse some automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.
Despite Cruz' effort, Reid set a test vote for Wednesday on a motion to move the measure ahead.
Outside conservative groups that have been targeting Republican incumbents implored their members to call lawmakers and demand that they stand with Cruz and his attack on Obamacare.
"This is the ultimate betrayal," the Senate Conservatives Fund said of McConnell and Cornyn — two lawmakers up for re-election next year — in an email Tuesday morning.
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Alan Fram, David Espo and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.