By David Lawder and Amanda Becker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A defiant Senator Ted Cruz railed against a bipartisan U.S. Senate deal to lift the federal debt limit and reopen the government on Wednesday, but said he would not try to block or delay its passage.
Cruz, a conservative Texas Republican, said he would vote against the measure because it provides no relief to Americans from what he calls the harmful effects of "Obamacare" health insurance reforms. However, he said that at this point there was nothing to gain from taking procedural measures to delay it.
Cruz has waged a weeks-long campaign to persuade Republicans to use the threat of a government shutdown and failure to lift the federal debt limit as leverage to defund, delay, or otherwise undermine President Barack Obama's signature health care law.
"The timing of the vote will make no difference in the outcome, and so I don't intend to delay the timing of the vote. I intend to vote no," Cruz told reporters. "It will be a bad deal for the American people today, tomorrow or the next day."
Under Senate rules, any senator can object to pending legislation, a move that would require a 60-vote majority to proceed to a yes or no vote. The process requires several days to complete, and with the U.S. Treasury set to exhaust its borrowing capacity on Thursday, time for passage is running short.
In a campaign-style speech before cameras as the Senate deal was announced, Cruz said the bipartisan plan reflected "the "traditional approach of the Washington establishment of maintaining the status quo and doing nothing to respond to the suffering that Obamacare is causing to millions of Americans."
Although the health reform is aimed at providing affordable care to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, Cruz and other Republicans blame it for causing premiums to rise in some areas and for prompting companies to reduce hiring or to shift employees from full-time work to part-time work.
In the end, the only Obamacare concession in Wednesday's Senate-negotiated deal was the inclusion of a provision requiring that those applying for insurance subsidies verify their income.
Government-run health insurance exchanges started operating on October 1, and the deal does not alter a requirement that individuals obtain coverage starting on January 1 or pay a tax penalty. The deal still requires passage in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
Lawmakers and aides from both parties on Capitol Hill have criticized Cruz for using his fight against Obamacare, which included a well-publicized 21-hour speech on the Senate floor, as a personal platform to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. The Tea Party firebrand won election to the Senate only last November.
Although Cruz has not announced his formal intention to run for president, some political analysts say the fame he has gained from his recent efforts has elevated him to a leading Republican contender, alongside House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the party's 2012 vice presidential candidate, and fellow conservative Senator Rand Paul.
Cruz defended his efforts to use the fiscal deadlines to try to thwart Obamacare, saying he was doing what Americans wanted.
Despite the government shutdown, which has forced the temporary layoff of hundreds of thousands of government employees, and angst in financial markets as to whether the United States would default on its obligations, Cruz said the effort was worth it as it had caused "millions upon millions of people rise up" against Obamacare.
He praised House Republicans, whose demands for Obamacare concessions - and their refusal by Democrats - forced much of the government to close on October 1.
"We saw the House of Representatives take courageous stand listening to the American people, that everyone in official Washington just weeks ago said would never happen. That was a remarkable victory to see the House engage in a profile in courage."
He blamed the failure to stop the health care law on Senate Republicans who had failed to unite in the fight over the fiscal deadlines.
"I would point out, that had Senate Republicans united, and supported House Republicans, the outcome of this I believe would've been very, very different," he said.
(Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by David Brunnstrom)