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Sessions: No Budget Wonk

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Although Sen. Jeff Sessions is the top Republican on the Budget Committee, he is content to let others take the lead on proposing budget plans.

With budget talks breaking out all over Capitol Hill, Senate Budget ranking member Jeff Sessions has been on the outside looking in.

The Alabama Republican seems to still be feeling out his new role, more the loyal foot soldier for the GOP and talking points attack dog than the party’s idea man or deal-cutter.

Sessions said it’s fine with him that he’s not part of the bipartisan “gang of six” or the debt talks with Vice President Joseph Biden. He’s not writing a budget blueprint of his own. And he’s not likely to be in the room when the final deal is struck among the top leadership.

Sessions has generally been supportive of the gang of six’s work and hopes the Biden group finds common ground. 

“I don’t mind [Republican Arizona Sen.] Jon Kyl meeting with the vice president or anything that can help get us on the right path,” he said. And if the gang of six “can produce something that’s good for America, I’ll be happy,” Sessions said. 

Rather than generating a bunch of proposals on his own, Sessions has focused almost exclusively on attacking President Barack Obama for failing to produce a sustainable budget and on Senate Democrats for failing to produce a budget at all for the past two years.

Sessions has also been a cheerleader for House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint, noting humbly that the Wisconsin Republican has far more budget experience than he does.

“I have not been working on it that long, and I don’t think a plan I would put together would be as good as the one he put together,” Sessions said. 

Sessions acknowledged that he’s not instantly going to fill the outsized role of his predecessor, former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). “When you had Judd there, we all depended on him to do so much of the work, and we didn’t contribute enough, quite frankly,” he said.

Views of Sessions vary in the Republican Conference. None expected him to completely replace Gregg, who carried a lot of weight with leadership and respect on both sides of the aisle.

“He’s not really a legislator,” one Republican aide said. “That’s the thing.”

Others are more charitable.

Senate Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Sessions has done a good job representing the GOP position and pointing out flaws in the Democrats’ approach on the budget but that he can’t fill Gregg’s role overnight.

“Judd left very big shoes to fill. ... This is [Sessions’] maiden voyage, and it does take time.”

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