Much has been made of remarks Sen. Ted Cruz made on the Senate floor this month that he doesn't trust "Republicans" or "Democrats" to negotiate an acceptable agreement to raise the government's borrowing limit.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. had taken to the floor to criticize Cruz, R-Texas, for blocking Democrats from proceeding to a budget conference committee. Cruz responded flatly that he does not, in fact, trust either party to approach responsibly either the debt ceiling or the fiscal 2014 budget. Those remarks were interpreted by many as an intentional and direct shot at House Republicans generally, and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan in particular.
According to this line of thinking, Cruz was insinuating that Tea Party-aligned Republicans do not trust Ryan to extract acceptable concessions from President Obama and the Democrats in exchange for raising the federal borrowing limit. Specifically, conservatives are afraid that the Ryan, R-Wis., might agree to couple a debt ceiling hike with the budget resolution, which, according to Senate rules, cannot be filibustered. This would leave Senate Republicans powerless to block it.
But in a conversation I had with Sen. Mike Lee late last week for a story I posted on Ryan's budget strategy, the Utah Republican and Tea Party stalwart threw cold water on the notion that mistrust of the 2012 vice presidential nominee is what prompted him and his colleagues to block the appointment of a conference committee that would negotiate a compromise on separate budget resolutions passed by the GOP House and the Democratic Senate.
"This is not about not trusting House Republicans. It has nothing to do with that. This has to do with, we've got a job to do and our job is to make sure that we have our say in it," Lee said. "We want a budget. We just want the to focus on the budget and not on the debt limit; because, when you allow that to be made in conference, you put in the hands of a body that, historically -- especially in recent years -- has met in private, in secret, behind closed doors, and then you change the vote threshold from 60 down to 51."
Cruz and his allies are blocking the budget conference committee until Senate Democrats agree to a pre-conference arrangement guaranteeing that they will not link raising the debt ceiling to any compromise budget resolution they might negotiate with House Republicans. They also want Senate Democrats to agree not to raise taxes as a part of any budget compromise.
In this case, Cruz's allies include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican has personally trekked to the floor to lodge about half of the objections to Democratic requests to move to a conference committee.
So, notwithstanding the carping of some Republicans like McCain, blocking Democratic attempts to move to conference is supported by the GOP leadership and many others within the minority conference. In other words, this is not the right flank of the Senate GOP caucus going rogue, although that makes for a more interesting story line.
Here's what Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, had to say about it last week:
"The issue, I think, for those who are objecting, is primarily concerns about raising the debt ceiling and raising taxes using budget reconciliation, and that's the concern," Cornyn said.