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Ted Cruz’s anti-Obamacare crusade continues with few allies

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill after House leaders reached a last-minute agreement to avert a threatened Treasury default and reopen the government after a partial, 16-day shutdown on Oct. 16, 2013.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill after House leaders reached a last-minute agreement to avert a threatened Treasury default and reopen the government after a partial, 16-day shutdown on Oct. 16, 2013. AP

Ted Cruz is still on a crusade to wipe out Obamacare, but the effort is getting lonelier and lonelier.

Republican leaders are now publicly rooting against a Texas-led lawsuit that could eradicate the law in its entirety. Cruz personally laid the groundwork last year for the lawsuit’s approach.

The GOP also largely ignored Cruz’s pleas to make major changes to the law using only Republican votes in these final days when the party controls all of Congress. Democrats will run the House as of Jan. 3.

Fresh off an election where Republicans lost control of the House in large part due to attacks on their plans to overhaul the nation’s health care system, GOP leaders desperately want to move on from an issue that’s gone from political boon to an albatross.

“I’d like to see [the Texas lawsuit] go on appeal because I’m pretty sure it will be overturned and people won’t have to worry about it,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, chairman of the Senate panel overseeing health.

“People ought to just take a deep breath and see what the Supreme Court does, maybe in a couple years from now,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the second-ranking Senate Republican. He’s up for re-election in 2020.

Cruz, on the other hand, has never stopped dreaming up unorthodox approaches to end or severely water down Obamacare.

“Obamacare has been driving up premiums and hurting the people of Texas,” Cruz said of his lonely quest. “It is long past time for Congress to address that directly.”

Texas has the country’s highest rate of people who are uninsured, roughly 19 percent of its non-elderly population, according to a December report from the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan research group.

That rate has gone down since Obamacare began eight years ago, according to the report, but Texas has not taken advantage of the law’s Medicaid expansion, as several GOP-led states have done.

Last month Cruz, who once helped trigger a government shutdown in an attempt to defund some of the health care law’s programs, urged GOP colleagues in a closed-door policy meeting to make changes to Obamacare he said would help people better afford insurance in his state.

His proposal would use an obscure budget tool that would make it difficult for Democrats to filibuster changes such as ending the law’s employer mandate, which requires organizations with 50 or more full-time employees to provide minimum health care coverage. Cruz also suggested expanding health savings accounts, which allow people to put untaxed money aside for health care and to help pay for premiums.

“I made that case to my colleagues emphatically because the Democratic obstruction we’re seeing right now, that handwriting was on the wall,” Cruz said of his push to use the budget tool.

Doing so could have allowed his party to tackle a host of remaining policy goals, including securing funding for Trump’s wall — the disagreement that caused the government to go into a partial shutdown this week. Trump himself suggested using the option to get the wall funded, but it was quickly rejected by senators from both parties.

The Texas lawsuit, though, could still force lawmakers to return to the issue of health care, if the suit is upheld by higher courts.

Earlier this month a Fort Worth judge said the entire law became unconstitutional when Republicans removed a provision that forced people to pay a fine if they don’t have health insurance.

How Texas Sen. Ted Cruz convinced Republicans to gut Obamacare’s individual mandate

Though Cruz has encouraged the lawsuit as a promising vehicle to deliver big changes on Obamacare, other Republicans who supported Cruz’s plan to delete the individual mandate openly detest using the courts to gut the rest of the law.

It was “very explicitly stated by the people who were [driving that effort] ... that this was not to affect other parts [of the Affordable Care Act],” Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, a physician, said of the case.

Cassidy is now working with Democrats on potential changes to Obamacare aimed at lowering premiums.

Cruz was one of the few Republicans in a competitive re-election race in 2018 who didn’t face a barrage of attack ads from his opponent over health care.

Asked about potential solutions if the lawsuit succeeds, he pointed to ideas he pushed to include in the Senate’s GOP-led effort to replace Obamacare last year.

Cruz’s provision would allow insurance companies to sell cheaper plans to healthy people, as long as the firms continue to offer plans to people with pre-existing conditions.

The Senate Republicans’ plan was defeated 51-49, with two Republicans joining all Democrats and independents in opposition.

Andrea Drusch is the Washington Correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She is a Corinth, Texas, native and graduate of the Bob Schieffer School of Journalism at Texas Christian University. She returns home frequently to visit family, get her fix of Fuzzy’s Tacos and cheer on the Horned Frogs.