Via Joel Gehrke, a scene from the intramural debate over the debt ceiling between Maverick and the Paul/Lee/Cruz tea-party coalition. If you read Erika’s post last night, you already know the background. The tea partiers are threatening to block the Senate’s budget from being sent to the House for a conference committee unless Reid assures them that whatever emerges won’t raise the debt ceiling. (Or, if it does, that 60 votes will be required for passage rather than the simple majority typically required for budget bills.) Reid won’t budge on that — yet. McCain, who’s been busy lately recouping lots of Strange New Respect that he lost five years ago when he momentarily became the left’s chief obstacle to power, has spent the last 24 hours effectively siding with Reid. Whether that’s because he’s a stickler for traditional Senate procedure or because he disdains the new generation of Senate conservatives for being too brash in asserting themselves (and for not being as interventionist as he’d like), I leave to you to decide. In Maverick’s defense, he’s been consistent in criticizing irregular GOP maneuvering on the debt ceiling — and in dumping on tea partiers for driving it. From 2011:

McCain said conservatives’ insistence that an increase in the debt ceiling be accompanied by a balanced budget amendment was “worse than foolish” because it couldn’t get through the Senate.

Reading from the [Wall Street Journal] editorial, McCain continued:

“The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue and the public will turn en masse against Barack Obama…. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea party hobbits could return to Middle-earth having defeated Mordor.

“This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell into GOP Senate nominees,” he said, referring to the failed tea-party-backed candidates from Nevada and Delaware.

He got irritated with his foreign-policy and immigration ally Marco Rubio over this last night too, and this morning accused Mike Lee of being, well, ignorant:

“Perhaps the senator from Utah doesn’t know about that — the fact that even if they did raise the debt limit, it could not become law because it doesn’t go to the president of the United States,” McCain said. “So again, maybe the senator from Utah ought to learn a little bit more about how business has been done in the Congress of the United States.”

As is usually the case with McCain, the excessive nastiness in his criticism leaves you wondering how much of this is about policy and procedure and how much of it is driven by deeper personal dislike. Here’s Cruz reveling in Maverick’s annoyance by answering his attack on Lee with an 11-minute speech, the highlight of which comes at around 6:00 with a reference to McCain’s now-infamous (and since apologized-for) dubbing of Cruz and Rand Paul as “wacko birds.” He’s going to have endless fun tweaking Mac during their time in the Senate together, isn’t he?