Sessions Rejects Style of Overreach and Activism on Federal Budget
Policy + Politics

Sessions Rejects Style of Overreach and Activism on Federal Budget

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Republican expected to chair the Budget Committee when the 114th Congress convenes in January, said Wednesday he won’t use his new position to write specific policy changes in government programs into the federal budget. He vowed instead to stick to the high-level questions of spending and deficit reduction.

The news will no doubt disappoint some conservatives, who had hoped that the ascension of a Republican Senate majority would lead to sweeping budget proposals along the lines of those issued by House Budget Committee Chair Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) for the past several years – proposals that got into the weeds of specific policies in search of ways to cut spending.

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Sessions spoke at an event on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation. He described what he sees as Congress’s moral duty to fix a number of problems in federal programs such as Medicare.

If Sen. Jeff Sessions takes a more traditional approach to running the Budget Committee, the activist model that Rep. Paul Ryan used in the House to advance major policy changes won’t work. So any GOP effort to restructure entitlement programs and other government functions via the power of the purse would be more decentralized than House members anticipated – making sweeping change to federal programs less likely.

However, asked by reporters afterward if he would use his expected authority as Budget Committee Chair to put forward proposals to fix Medicare, he said he would not.

The program needs to be fixed, he acknowledged. “But the budget won’t do it. The budget would call for restraint in spending and a reducing of deficits. But it will be up to the authorizing and Finance committees … to develop any plan to fix that. I think it would be an overreach for the Budget Committee to dictate or even attempt to dictate how that’s all to be done.

“Congressman Ryan at the Budget Committee last year – really the past several years – used that position to advance his views about how Medicare ought to be fixed,” Sessions continued. “I thought they were very valuable and very thoughtful. I’m not saying that we’d agree with everything that’s in his plan.”

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Sessions’ comments drew a sharp contrast between the Alabama Senator and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, whose policy-heavy budget proposals, which have passed in the House three times during his tenure as chair, suggest that Sessions sees a more retrained role for a Budget Committee under his control.

Former House and Senate Budget Committee staffer Stan Collender, now executive vice president and national director of financial communications for public affairs firm Qorvis MSLGROUP, said Sessions appears to be signaling a return to tradition.

“It’s what the Budget Committee was supposed to be like,” said Collender. “That was the way it was supposed to work. Over the years that changed, with the budget committees getting bolder and bolder.”

Apparently, he said, “Sessions doesn’t expect the Budget Committee to be that activist.”

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While he may not want to be addressing the details of entitlement policy, Sessions made it clear he wants the new Congress to have full control over the budget, and he wants it as soon as the new Congress begins. This is an issue, as legislation funding the operations of the government is due to expire in December while the Senate remains under the Democrats’ control.

Sessions called on the Democrats to adopt a short-term continuing resolution that would fund the government through early next year so the 114th Congress has the ability to make its own decisions about spending.

“Senator Reid shouldn’t be entitled to bind the country next year, when we’ve got a new Congress, so I think that would be smart for a whole lot of reasons,” he said.

While he didn’t get into many specifics, Sessions made clear he anticipates passing budgets that cut spending and reduce the federal deficit and debt. He called the last a “national calamity” that presents a “clear and present danger” to the country.

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Sessions repeatedly characterized the federal budget as an issue of morality. “We’ve strayed far from the path of sound and prudent principles,” he said, adding that under Republicans the Senate would dedicate itself to establishing a federal budget “based on sound and honorable policies consistent with our national morality.”

The budget, he said, “is a moral pact … we have with the American people.”

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