When Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama became the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee this year, veteran Senate watchers figured he would bring a far harder edge and much more ideological passion to the post than did his predecessor, former Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. In the past three months, Sessions hasn’t disappointed.
The 64-year-old former prosecutor has blistered President Obama for failing to provide leadership on the growing debt and deficit, for making “false” statements about the White House’s proposed budget, for fiscal 2012 and for “taking a risk with his credibility.” In other words, Sessions has all but said the president has lied about his budget proposal.
American people. The [president’s budget]
is quite different than how he has portrayed it.”
When pressed on his hard-hitting style, Sessions told The Fiscal Times this week, “I feel like somebody needs to speak for the American people. The [president’s budget] is quite different than how he has portrayed it. It just is.” He added, “It does not call on us to live within our means. It is breathtaking that the administration continues to say … that they’re cutting spending. It’s almost as if there is some sort ofcoordinated effort to create a false impression about this administration’s plans.”
Concern from the Experts
While Session gets high marks as a lawmaker from many of his GOP colleagues, some budget experts worry that his inflexibility and unrelenting attacks on Obama will impede a bipartisan budget deal later this year, when Congress and the White House must agree on spending policies for fiscal 2012 and beyond. “You’re trading somebody who was fiscally conservative but not bound by ideology for somebody who is far more rigid in his ideological stance on the federal government across the board,” Wendy Schiller, a Brown University political science professor, said in contrasting Sessions with Gregg.
Sessions concedes he is being a lot more aggressive in his new job than he anticipated, but says that events forced his hand. He is especially rankled, he said, by Obama’s unwillingness to address long-term entitlement costs and by his budget that calls for more spending at a time when the deficit is projected to reach a record $1.5 trillion this year. “I didn’t realize we would have a budget this dramatically off course,” he said.
The Alabama lawmaker telegraphed his take on Obama even before the president unveiled his budget in an op-ed in The Washington Post, on Jan. 24, in which he excoriated Obama. “As record levels of federal spending bring us ever closer to a tipping point, the Obama administration blissfully continues business as usual,” he wrote. “We have seen no real plan, no strong leadership, no apparent willingness to confront the growing danger on the horizon … We are headed toward a cliff, yet the president hits the accelerator.”
Straining to Reach Agreement
It is already apparent that Sessions and Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., will have quite different approaches to dealing with the debt and deficit. Conrad, who has announced he is not seeking re-election next year, is part of the so-called Gang of Six that is trying to find a way to reach a bipartisan long-term blueprint for spending and tax policy.
having been here a while, I’m inclined
to believe that it will be just like 1994.”
The group, including conservative Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., are attempting to convert the recommendations of the president’s fiscal commission into legislation. Count Sessions as a skeptic of those efforts.
“We have senators working — they think they are going to work out something,” he said. “I’m excited for them. Maybe that will happen. But having been here a while, I am inclined to believe that it will be just like 1994, when it was a long series of battle after battle.”
Despite his politeness and Southern drawl, Sessions has never shied from engaging in high-profile battles since his election to the Senate in 1996. The low-key but tough-minded Alabamian, who has one of the most conservative voting records in the Senate, had already shown that he doesn’t hesitate to take the lead on high-stakes battles.