October 19, 2013; CNN

The press is full of journalists and pundits bemoaning the damage that Ted Cruz (R-TX) has done to the political party he nominally represents in the U.S. Senate. By all accounts, he led the Republican Party into a Pyrrhic effort to wipe out the Affordable Care Act by taking the U.S. government into a 16-day shutdown and almost to a national debt default. Before this point, the Republicans were riding high, attacking the Obama White House on a variety of issues and making some headway. Nonetheless, Cruz as a Johnny-One-Note ideologue got them to focus on trying to undo a law—enacted three years ago!—by holding the federal budget hostage.

Despite Democratic chortling about Cruz’s arson attempt at the Republican Party, such as Sen. Harry Reid calling him a “laughingstock,” Cruz’s government-takedown strategy shouldn’t be a laughing matter to the nonprofit sector. In a number of ways, the challenges for nonprofits going forward have been exacerbated by an element of Ted Cruz’s political crusade:

  • We face a new budget deadline—fundamentally on the sequester—of January 15th. Given that the Republicans got nothing from the agreement reached last week, and they’re now heading into an election year, Republicans might dig in hard to protect the second year of budget cuts and cement in the first year’s worth. Having been sabotaged by the feckless Cruz, the party might decide to bore in on federal funding cuts and fight any change in those—except for helping out the Pentagon. Given the knee-jerk support of both parties for expanded Pentagon spending, this isn’t good.
  • This was supposed to be a period in which the House and the Senate, led by their tax-writing committees, were going to be working on comprehensive tax reform. The likelihood of impasse means that tax reform is hard to imagine. For progressives, it means that the power of special interests to protect loopholes for corporations and wealthy people will be enhanced in the political chaos.
  • What about the Affordable Care Act? The ideologues who failed so miserably to mortally wound health insurance coverage at the national level will redouble their efforts at the state levels. They have already been successful at preventing the expansion of Medicaid in many states, using the prospect of a declining federal funding share after some years as the justification for leaving millions in a coverage gap, and harassing efforts of nonprofit navigators aiming to help people purchase insurance on the exchanges.

In his postmortem, Cruz trashed Republican senators for failing to ally themselves with House conservatives to crush Democrats and the Affordable Care Act. Cruz may be winning himself no friends among his senatorial colleagues, but he is endearing himself to the 90 right wing members of the House who saw him as their leader in bringing the federal government to a halt.

Many sources describe the Tea Party right wing as angry, angrier than before, but about what? About a government that they think doesn’t care about them? About a changing demography of minorities and immigrants that is changing the dynamics of their home communities? Whatever the motivation might be, Cruz’s anger hasn’t dissipated. Even though Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has pledged that there will not be another government shutdown in January, declaring it a “losing strategy,” Cruz is ready do whatever he can, including a new shutdown, if “Obamacare” is not eliminated. Nonprofits should expect this avid, conservative congressional minority to do whatever it can to disrupt forward progress.—Rick Cohen