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In the hours before a federal government shutdown, the House of Representatives repeatedly passed measures that the Senate rejected. House Republicans insisted on measures that undermined Obamacare, to which Democratic senators said no.
Last night, Republicans tried again. They tried to pass measures to fund popular parts of the government, such as national parks. But this time, their effort didn't even make it out of the House. This piecemeal funding strategy is credited to Republican Senator Ted Cruz. In recent days, he's come to seem like a member of the House, where he's enjoying considerable influence.
NPR's Tamara Keith has more.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Ted Cruz looms large in this government shutdown drama. He's the one who spent the August recess campaigning for Republicans to insist on tying funding for the government with defunding of the health care law. And on Monday night, just hours before the shutdown began, Cruz appeared on CNN.
(SOUNDBITE OF CNN BROADCAST)
SENATOR TED CRUZ: Let me give you another strategy that ought to happen at the same time.
WOLF BLITZER: Sure.
CRUZ: We saw today...
KEITH: One at a time, take up smaller spending bills, funding bits and pieces of the government.
(SOUNDBITE OF CNN BROADCAST)
CRUZ: We should pick the top, the critical priorities, the areas where, if the Democrats force a shutdown, the areas where there'll be the most pain, and let's address that. Let's take them off the table. And I think the House tonight ought to pass several continuing resolutions.
KEITH: The House didn't do it that night, but by yesterday afternoon, three such bills were on the House floor. Idaho Republican Mike Simpson spoke in favor of a bill to fund the national parks, criticizing Democrats who planned to vote against it on principle along the way.
(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE SESSION)
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE SIMPSON: What you need to do is quit holding the national parks, the Smithsonian, the Holocaust Museum and others hostage to your desire to shut down the government. That's what's going on here. You think we're holding the Affordable Healthcare Act hostage? You're holding our national parks hostage.
REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: It's pathetic. It's not responsible.
KEITH: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi encouraged all Democrats to vote no. In a Dear Colleagues letter, House Democrats cited Senator Cruz's possible involvement as a reason.
PELOSI: They took hostages by shutting down the government, and now they're releasing one hostage at a time.
KEITH: Those Democratic no votes were enough to defeat the bills, because of the particular rules Republican leaders used in an attempt to speed things along. On the Senate side of the Capitol, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin ridiculed the small bill strategy.
SENATOR DICK DURBIN: It is reckless for this senator from Texas to decide well, OK, tomorrow veterans and national parks, and maybe later on we'll get around to medical research.
KEITH: Whether Cruz has become a cartoon villain for Democrats or whether he truly is driving action in the House of Representatives is up for some debate. A House leadership aide pushed back on the idea that doing these small funding bills came from the Texas senator, saying similar measures have been considered in past shutdowns or near shutdowns.
But it's not just Democrats who are questioning the outsized influence of Ted Cruz. Devin Nunes is a Republican from California's Central Valley, and is generally considered a conservative.
REPRESENTATIVE DEVIN NUNES: Well, they're lemmings. They're followers.
KEITH: That's what he calls the 30 or so House Tea Party members who frequently vote against House Speaker John Boehner and have carried Cruz's flag in the House. He says the speaker has acquiesced to their strategy.
NUNES: We're this far, so you have to let it play out. I mean, we've already shut the government down. I mean, we're sitting here, and now you have to, I think, keep up with this Ted Cruz-lemming strategy. It's got to move forward.
KEITH: But Nunes isn't convinced there really is a strategy.
NUNES: Now we're letting these guys - this lemming crew - play out their hand. Now, they're kind of playing with no cards in their hand. But they don't know that yet.
KEITH: And even if he disagrees with the path, Nunes continues to vote with the speaker. In fact - although some talk about a silent majority of Republicans who, if given the chance, would vote for the Senate's government funding bill, no strings attached - virtually all of them, like Nunes, continue to vote with the Republican majority. House leadership says they plan to bring up more of these small spending bills today.
Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol.