WASHINGTON -- A tea party rebellion by several U.S. senators blocking progress on the federal budget may be working for them, but not for their fellow Republican lawmakers -- even ones who mostly agree with them.

Tension has occasionally been evident in the simmering, behind-the-scenes struggle between the Senate's tea party contingent and old-guard party members. But it erupted in public view on the Senate floor this week as Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) revealed their displeasure with their junior colleagues.

The tea partiers -- primarily Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) -- are blocking the Senate from appointing conferees to a conference committee with the House to work out the radical differences between the two budgets each side has passed.

That is often done in the Senate by unanimous consent. Other times, there are votes instructing conferees on how to try to shape the final bill. But the conservative cohorts want more. They are demanding that the Senate bar the conference members from doing anything that would raise the federal debt limit -- a demand that McCain lambasted for much of the week as unprecedented.

The debate intensified Wednesday, when McCain charged that the tea party members' opposition amounted to distrust of the House GOP leadership. And Cruz admitted it did. "Let me be clear. I don't trust the Republicans," he said, lumping them in with Democrats.

But McCain has held his ground, suggesting on Thursday that senators who object to conference negotiations don't understand "how business has been done" in Congress. Moreover, McCain asserted that most GOP senators agree with him that it's time to stop stalling and go to conference.

Most senators asked by The Huffington Post said they do agree with McCain.

"I think it's a good idea to get a commitment not to raise the debt limit, but I trust the normal course of business -- that we're not going to use reconciliation to raise the debt limit," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told HuffPost. "We can have a motion to instruct our conferees not to raise the debt limit by 51 votes, so I'm fine with going to conference."

"People have strong feelings, and that's what it's all about," Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) explained of the tea party conservatives. "But myself personally, I would very much like to see this resolved very quickly so that we can go to conference. I would like to see us appoint conferees."

Even Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), a deficit hawk and the top Republican on the Budget Committee who said he understood the concerns over raising the debt limit, pointed out that the ultimate goal was to iron out differences through regular order.

"I think the right thing to do is get ourselves to conference," Sessions told HuffPost. "Eventually we need to go forward and reach an agreement, the president needs to be engaged, and a conference provides an opportunity to do that."

"I think there ought to be discussion, but ultimately we have to go to conference," said Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).

Some senators said they found the stall tactics to be political grandstanding.

"It's all a political game," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told HuffPost, adding that he supported regular order. "This is a slowdown because the House wants a slowdown. As soon as the House doesn't want the slowdown, it will get released."

Coburn's comments are oddly in line with recent arguments used by Democrats in the budget fight. House Republicans spent four years calling for regular order while berating the Senate for failing to pass a budget. When the Senate finally passed its budget resolution in March, Republicans were suddenly reluctant to convene a conference committee, even though without one, there can be no formal federal budget for the fifth year in a row.

Indeed, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday he's had "private conversations this week on how we might move ahead, but we've not made any decisions at this point."

Even some kindred conservatives in the House, however, said they would like to see the budget finished.

"These guys are blood brothers. I love 'em. In fact I would suggest to you, in all deference to Sen. McCain, they're far more in line with the rank-and-file members of the House than Sen. McCain is," Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) told HuffPost. "That's probably an understatement."

But Franks suggested that the best way to convince people in the long run was play by the rules, and keep making the argument. House leaders, he said, had to keep their eye on the bigger picture of what is possible, even if Franks disagrees.

"I understand the equation they're dealing with is almost untenable, mathematically," Franks said. "If they do what people like me would like them to do, sometimes we end up, because we're so outnumbered, not being able to sustain that."

And even though the tea partiers' fears may be realized, Franks said he thinks the process should proceed.

"What we have to do, still in a regular order situation, is to get the strongest thing that we can from the Senate that's the best for the country possible and do the same in the House, and then hope that the respective leaderships appoint the people that can sustain the best outcome possible," Franks said. "If we have the right people on our conference side, I wouldn't be afraid of that at all."

McCain said he couldn't speak for his colleagues in the House, but pointed out that the same group of senators threatened to filibuster the debate on gun control legislation and were ultimately convinced not to block debate.

"Any small group of senators can object to moving to conference on any piece of legislation because they object to their provision not being included in it?" McCain said in a brief hallway interview. "That would be a dreadful precedent to set in the United States Senate."

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate GOP conference, was confident the matter would be resolved. He told HuffPost his colleagues had a "legitimate fear" over the debt limit, but stressed the need to figure out a path forward.

"Obviously we want to see a continued debate about the budget," Thune said. "I think that's good for us, because we've been talking about debt, spending and taxes. I think those are good arguments for Republicans."

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Prison Reform

    The U.S. incarcerates its citizens at a rate roughly <a href="http://www.parade.com/news/2009/03/why-we-must-fix-our-prisons.html" target="_hplink">five times higher than the global average</a>. We have about 5 percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of its prisoners, according to The Economist,. This status quo costs our local, state and federal governments a combined $68 billion a year -- all of which becomes a federal problem during recessions, when states look to Washington for fiscal relief. Over the standard 10-year budget window used in Congress, that's a $680 billion hit to the deficit. Solving longstanding prison problems -- releasing elderly convicts unlikely to commit crimes, offering treatment or counseling as an alternative to prison for non-violent offenders, slightly shortening the sentences of well-behaved inmates, and substituting probation for more jail-time -- would do wonders for government spending.

  • End Of The Drug War

    The federal government spends more than <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-20072096.html" target="_hplink">$15 billion a year</a> investigating and prosecuting the War on Drugs. That's $150 billion in Washington budget-speak, and it doesn't include the far higher costs of incarcerating millions of people for doing drugs. This money isn't getting the government the results it wants. As drug war budgets balloon, drug use escalates. Ending the Drug War offers the government two separate budget boons. In addition to saving all the money spending investigating, prosecuting and incarcerating drug offenders, Uncle Sam could actually regulate and tax drugs like marijuana, generating new revenue. Studies by pot legalization advocates indicate that fully legalizing weed in California would yield <a href="http://canorml.org/background/CA_legalization2.html" target="_hplink">up to $18 billion annually</a> for that state's government alone. For the feds, the benefits are even sweeter.

  • Let Medicare Negotiate With Big Pharma

    The U.S. has <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/06/01/us-healthcare-costs-sb-idUSTRE5504Z320090601" target="_hplink">higher health care costs than any other country</a>. We spend over 15 percent of our total economic output each year on health care -- roughly 50 percent more than Canada, and double what the U.K. spends. Why? The American private health care system is inefficient, and the intellectual property rules involving medication in the U.S. can make prescription drugs much more expensive than in other countries. Medicare currently spends about $50 billion a year on prescription drugs. According to economist Dean Baker, <a href="http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/intellectual_property_2004_09.pdf" target="_hplink">Americans spend roughly 10 times more than they need to</a> on prescription drugs as a result of our unique intellectual property standards. These savings for the government, of course, would come from the pockets of major pharmaceutical companies, currently among the most profitable corporations the world has ever known. They also exercise tremendous clout inside the Beltway. President Barack Obama even <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/02/barack-obama-politics_n_1847947.html" target="_hplink">guaranteed drug companies more restrictive -- and lucrative -- intellectual property standards</a> in order to garner their support for the Affordable Care Act.

  • Offshore Tax Havens

    The U.S. Treasury Department estimates that it loses about <a href="http://www.ctj.org/pdf/stopact.pdf" target="_hplink">$100 billion a year</a> in revenue due to offshore tax haven abuses. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has been pushing legislation for years to rein in this absurd tax maneuvering, but corporate lobbying on Capitol Hill has prevented the bill from becoming law.

  • Deprivatize Government Contract Work

    In recent years, the federal government has privatized an enormous portion of public projects to government contractors. Over the past decade, the federal government's staffing has held steady, while the number of federal contractors has <a href="http://pogoarchives.org/m/co/igf/bad-business-report-only-2011.pdf" target="_hplink">increased by millions</a>. This outsourcing has resulted in much higher costs for the government than would be incurred by simply doing the work in-house. On average, contractors are paid <a href="http://pogoarchives.org/m/co/igf/bad-business-report-only-2011.pdf" target="_hplink">nearly double</a> what a comparable federal employee would receive for the same job, according to the Project On Government Oversight.

  • Print More Money

    There's an old saying in economics: You have to print money to make money. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/09/underwear-sales-growth-economy_n_1952214.html" target="_hplink">Okay, there's no such saying</a>. Nevertheless, the great boogeyman of many conservative economic doctrines -- inflation -- isn't such a bad idea during periods where much of the citizenry is drowning in debt. Inflation is by no means a perfect remedy: it's a stealth cut to workers' wages. But it also has many benefits that are often unacknowledged by the Washington intelligentsia. Inflation makes housing debt, student loan debt and any other private-sector debt more manageable. Today, when <a href="http://www.corelogic.com/about-us/researchtrends/asset_upload_file448_16434.pdf" target="_hplink">10.8 million</a> homes are underwater -- meaning borrowers owe banks than their houses are worth, moderate inflation could ease that debt burden. By effectively reducing monthly bills, moderate inflation could actually put more money in the pockets of these homeowners to spend elsewhere, thus stimulating the economy. Moderate inflation -- 5 percent or so -- could also help alleviate the <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-57555780/student-loan-debt-nears-$1-trillion-is-it-the-new-subprime/" target="_hplink">$1 trillion</a> in student debt currently plaguing America's graduates. Make no mistake -- hyperinflation of 20 percent, 30 percent or more -- is bad. But the U.S. has ways to crush inflation when it gets out of hand, as proven by the Federal Reserve under then-Chairman Paul Volcker in the early-1980s.

  • Print Less Money

    The government prints a <em>lot</em> of $1 bills. But it turns out that minting $1 coins is much, much cheaper. Over the course of 30 years, the government could save $4.4 billion by switching from dollar bills to dollar coins. Here's looking at you, <a href="http://www.usmint.gov/mint_programs/nativeamerican/" target="_hplink">Sacagawea</a>.

  • Immigration: Less Detention, More Ankle Bracelets

    The government spends <a href="http://newamericamedia.org/2012/04/ice-slow-to-embrace-alternatives-to-immigrant-detention.php" target="_hplink"> $122 per person, per day</a> detaining immigrants who are considered safe and unlikely to commit crimes. The government has plenty of other options available to monitor such people, at a cost of as little as $15 per person. For the first 205 years of America's existence, there was no federal system for detaining immigrants. The process began in 1981.

  • Financial Speculation Tax

    Wall Street loves to gamble. In good times, financial speculation is the source of tremendous profits in America's banking system, but when the bets go bad, the government picks up the tab, as evidenced by the epic bank bailouts of 2008 and 2009. Unfortunately, this speculation is difficult to define in legalistic terminology and even more difficult to police. One solution? By taxing every financial trade at the ultra-low rate of 0.25 percent, the U.S. government can impose a modest incentive against gambling for the sheer sake of gambling. If there's an immediate cost to placing a bet, a lot of traders will choose not to bet. What's more, this tax could raise about <a href="http://www.ips-dc.org/media/why_a_financial_transaction_tax" target="_hplink">$150 billion a year</a> for the federal government.

  • Carbon Tax

    Taxing greenhouse gases would generate $80 billion a year right now, and up to $310 billion a year by 2050, <a href="http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2012/07/carbon-tax-mckibbin-morris-wilcoxen" target="_hplink">according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution</a>. It would also help avert catastrophic ecological and economic damage from climate change.