In that vote, no Republican supported lifting the Treasury's borrowing authority. The bill passed on a party-line 55-43 vote, moving on to Obama.
The more pragmatic element of the Republican Party is determined to keep the focus this election year on Obama's troubled health care law and steer clear of divisive budget fights. But the party's ideological purists consider that capitulation in the face of debt and deficits.
The vote Wednesday was a fresh reminder that while Republicans see a legitimate chance of grabbing the majority in the Senate, fissures within the GOP often trip them up.
Pressed after the votes about what he made his leaders do, Cruz was unapologetic.
"It should have been a very easy vote," he told reporters. "In my view, every Senate Republican should have stood together." Whether McConnell remains the leader, Cruz said it "is ultimately a decision ... for the voters in Kentucky."
He faulted Congress with giving Obama more time "to keep digging the hole of debt, deeper, while doing absolutely nothing, nada, zero, to address the underlying problem of out-of-control spending."
Conservative groups railed against McConnell. "Americans deserve better than fake leaders who make empty promises and deliver zero results. It's time to dump the leadership," said Brent Bozell, chairman of the conservative group ForAmerica.
The Madison Project, which is backing McConnell challenger Bevin, said the Kentucky Republican had given Obama a blank check.
The overall legislation would permit the Treasury to borrow normally for 13 more months and then reset the government's borrowing limit, currently set at $17.2 trillion, after that.
It passed the House Tuesday after Republicans gave up efforts to use the debt ceiling measure to win concessions from Obama on GOP agenda items like approval of construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Republicans had even considered reversing the pension cut for working-age military retirees as part of the overall bill. They decided to handle that separately.