"If House Republicans go along with this strategy, they will be complicit in the disaster that is Obamacare," said Cruz, dismissing the plan as "procedural chicanery." Lee spoke out against it earlier this week, and is now supporting an alternate GOP measure backed by 43 Republicans which threatens a shutdown over Obamacare.
The two senators have significant influence among conservative House Republicans and activists who want to destroy Obamacare at all costs. So their opposition to Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) plan quickly contributed to the headache for House leaders, who were forced to postpone consideration of the bill until next week. It remains unclear if they'll be able to get the votes.
House Republican leaders are tired of being painted as weak on Obamacare while Cruz and Lee are seen as grassroots heroes without having to take risks or make unpopular moves. The Boehner stopgap bill would let these senators filibuster if Democrats try to fund Obamacare, House aides point out, if they have the courage to.
"Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have been demanding a fight to defund Obamacare. The House offers to give them one and they say, no, no, you guys fight it," said a House GOP aide, venting about colleagues on condition of anonymity. "We have been. For three years."
A House Republican aide put it more bluntly to Politico: "They're screwing us."
Senate Democrats have explicitly vowed to reject a continuing resolution that messes with Obamacare. But they haven't drawn any red lines on how much to spend, conscious that they may have to temporarily continue sequestration levels if Republicans pass such a bill in the House. That's a big if, thanks in part to Cruz and Lee.
House Republicans could be on the cusp of a major victory on spending cuts, and Democrats privately admit they'll have to swallow sequestration levels -- albeit temporarily -- in order to avert a government shutdown. The GOP fear is if Cruz and Lee get their way, and the House passes a stopgap measure that demands Obamacare be defunded, Senate Democrats will have political cover not only to restore the health care law's funding but also to raise the overall spending level before tossing it back into the House's lap. In that scenario, Republican leaders may have little choice but to accept a higher spending level or shut down the government.
That would be a huge blow to the GOP: a spending loss, an Obamacare loss and more woes for the party's brand -- all thanks to conservative senators who want to make a point.
Government funding expires when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.