Why Ted Cruz Might Still Try to Force a Default

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 30 Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

[UPDATE: Cruz has suddenly decided that discretion is the better part of valor and agreed not to delay the Senate deal]

The ballgame is over; Republicans lost. House Speaker John Boehner is reportedly preparing to bring the imminent Senate deal raising the debt ceiling and reopening the government to the floor of the House and pass it with Democratic support. But Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who did so much start this mess, could still try to force a default. Depending on the parliamentary procedure that Republican and Democrat leaders agree to today, Cruz might theoretically be able to delay Senate proceedings past tomorrow’s Treasury default deadline.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Why on earth would he keep this up!?!” The answer is simple: Cruz seeks to be the purest conservative in the 2016 field, and fighting the good fight till the bitter end would lend a romantic flourish to his CV, at least in the eyes of the Tea Party types who vote faithfully in GOP primaries. It’s no accident that he won last weekend’s Value Voters Summit Presidential Straw Poll going away. Cruz also needs to be able to explain away the humiliating debacle of the Republican collapse he precipitated, and here, too, fighting on would probably help him. In my talks with Cruz allies over the past couple of days, a clear theme emerged: Republicans were losing because those RINOs in the Senate wouldn’t man up and fight. To pin this defeat on others, Cruz will have to do everything he can to heighten this distinction.

In all likelihood, there’s no reason to panic if Cruz decided to keep tilting at windmills. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. wouldn’t risk missing a payment until sometime between Oct. 22 and Oct. 31 if the debt ceiling isn’t lifted, and Cruz couldn’t possibly stall for that long. So any delaying tactic would be a make-believe effort to force default in the same way that Cruz’s 21-hour talkathon before the shutdown was a make-believe filibuster. Afterward, he could declare another make-believe victory, while the rest of us got on with our lives.

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