WASHINGTON, May 24 (UPI) -- Senators who John McCain, R-Ariz., once called "whacko birds" are the real Republican mainstream, said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, daring McCain to prove him wrong.
Cruz, a freshman senator endorsed by the Tea Party movement and the libertarian Republican Liberty Caucus, said on the Senate floor Thursday he and fellow deficit-hawk Republicans Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida were not a crackpot fringe for standing in the way of negotiations with the House to reconcile the two chambers' competing U.S. budget proposals.
Indeed, they represent the GOP majority philosophy, Cruz said.
Cruz, Paul, Lee, Rubio and other conservative lawmakers with close Tea Party ties say they adamantly object to the appointment of a House-Senate conference committee to bridge the vast gap between the House and Senate budget versions unless the lawmakers are guaranteed negotiators won't agree to link a budget deal to a debt-limit increase.
If that were to happen, such an agreement would let a debt-ceiling increase be approved in the Senate with a simple 51-vote majority, rather than the 60-vote supermajority usually needed for controversial measures.
McCain, a senator since 1987, called his upstart colleagues' defiance obstructionist and said their demand for a guarantee showed their ignorance of how the Senate works.
"It's not the regular order for a number senators -- a small number, a minority within a minority here -- to say they will not agree to go to conference," McCain said Thursday.
"We're here to vote, not here to block things," he said. "We're here to articulate our positions on the issues and do what we can for the good of the country and the let the process move forward."
He said the budget blockade was the latest example of the small senators group pursuing a strategy that will "paralyze" the Senate process. He said it could provoke Democratic leaders to take extreme steps to change Senate rules to crack down on delaying tactics.
McCain previously criticized Tea Party tactics on other issues, including efforts to block votes on Cabinet nominations and gun-control legislation.
Two months ago he told The Huffington Post he considered them "whacko birds" after they filibustered John O. Brennan as President Barack Obama's nominee to head the CIA until he guaranteed Washington wouldn't use aerial drones to kill Americans in the United States.
"I think it can be harmful if there is a belief among the American people that those people are reflective of the views of the majority of Republicans. They're not," McCain said in the Post interview, published March 7.
Cruz said Thursday McCain was "impugning all 45 Republicans in this body" by suggesting Cruz and his colleagues were a small troublemaking minority of the GOP for continuing to stand in the way of the House-Senate conference committee and pressing the debt-ceiling issue.
"There may be more wacko birds in the Senate than is suspected," Cruz said.
He challenged McCain to test the senatorial waters by seeing how many Republican senators are willing to sign a statement saying they supported letting the Senate raise the debt ceiling with a simple majority.
"I believe he will find that his representation to this body -- that it is only a minority of Republicans that oppose that -- is not accurate," Cruz said.
Cruz challenged McCain, saying if the Arizona Republican can produce a document showing a majority of the Senate GOP supported the McCain position, "I will offer here and now to go to a home game of my Houston Astros wearing an Arizona Diamondbacks hat."