WASHINGTON -- Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has a couple of words to describe working with tea party stalwarts Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) -- "shocking" and "astonishing."
Murray, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, shepherded the first Senate budget resolution in four years through the upper chamber of Congress in March. She did it in part by giving every senator, including Cruz and Lee, a chance to offer amendments, bringing up 110 during a marathon of debate and votes.
It was after the measure passed -- shortly before 5 a.m. -- that things got surprising with the tea party pair, Murray told HuffPost in an interview Tuesday.
"Well, that was a very long night and I finally did my preschool moment and told everybody they really had to sit down," Murray said. "Lee and Cruz both came to me afterwards, and shook my hands and thanked me for having a process where they got to offer amendments and be a part of the debate, and they felt it was a really good moment."
She said it was not what she expected from the two, who had been determined foes of the measure throughout.
"Was it a surprise that they thanked me? Yes. I was shocked. Shocked," Murray said, with a chuckle.
But even more than that, after Republicans had demanded for more than three years that Democrats pass a budget, Murray said she could hardly believe it when Cruz and Lee then led an effort to stop that budget by blocking the final step, going to a conference committee with the House, which had passed a vastly different spending blueprint.
"It was a real surprise to me that within a short amount of time frame, they were saying, well, now that we've done this really good job of a democracy -- having amendments, you get to vote on it, you get to offer it -- that they wouldn't even let us go to conference," Murray said.
"I actually was surprised frankly that they chose to not allow us to go to conference. Not just because of them thanking me, but because they had beat us up forever. Remember, we were under the 'No Budget, No Pay' thing, which was a joke -- I was going to get a budget passed anyway," Murray said. She referred to the "No Budget, No Pay" bill that came from the House earlier in January. Congress passed the measure then in order to raise the debt limit -- on the condition that lawmakers also had to pass a budget.
"I determined the minute I became chair that we need to show the country who we are and what we believe in and what our priorities are," Murray said. "So it was astonishing to me that the minute we did exactly what they had been challenging us to do, they said never mind."
Cruz and Lee decided to oppose the budget conference because they said they feared a conference could be used to raise the debt ceiling again. After the 110 amendment votes, they essentially wanted a provision that would specify the budget conference would not be used in such a fashion.
Last month's fight over funding the government and raising the debt ceiling ultimately ended in an agreement to raise it anyway, and now the conference is underway seeking a longer-term solution. Murray is pleased Democrats refused Cruz's and Lee's debt-ceiling demands.
"We can't set up a path forward on anything if we allow amendment after amendment and then when it's all over say, 'Well, now I have one other thing and I,' one senator or two senators, 'am not going to allow us to go to conference unless you have a specific thing in here that I agree to,'" she said.
"I mean, think about what the precedence of that is. So we passed ENDA this week. And then I cross my arms and say, 'Well, I'm not going to allow you to take ENDA to a conference with the House' -- say they pass it -- 'unless you fund preschool for all 4-year-olds in this country. Unless you guarantee me that, we're not going to conference,'" Murray said. "That's not how this place can work. But it is, by the way, what they did with Obamacare and the budget. So hostage taking is not how you get things done."