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Budget GOP Wonders About Sessions' Priority

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Although he is chairman of the Budget Committee, Sessions has been focused on immigration, to the chagrin of some of his colleagues.

Sessions has long been a conservative stalwart, but he’s garnered less attention than tea-party-favored newcomers, such as Rand Paul of Kentucky or Ted Cruz of Texas. And even Paul has acknowledged the need for some changes to the current immigration system.

But Paul and Cruz, along with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. — a member of the immigration “gang of eight” with tea party credentials — have national ambitions and considerations outside their states.

Sessions, who is up for re-election in 2014, has no such incentive.

Rand Paul is playing to a national audience. Jeff Sessions is playing to Alabama,” one Senate Republican source said. “There’s the raw politics of it; for some of those guys, 2007 was the high-water mark when they brought down the immigration bill.”

When asked in the media call, Sessions said he plans to introduce amendments to the legislation but said the bill is “a disaster” and provided no possible changes that could lead to his support. There have been some grumblings, from people around those who either back the bill or would like to learn more about it, that there hasn’t been equal time within the committee to discuss the immigration overhaul or its potential effects on the budget, according to three sources.

But many are shrugging their shoulders, knowing there’s not much they can do to change the nature of the debate within the panel with Sessions at the helm.

Meanwhile, Sessions is the only top Budget member in the House or Senate who is not speaking at the annual Peter G. Peterson Foundation summit, to be held May 7 in Washington, where many of the nation’s top leaders will convene to discuss deficit reduction.

Murray is a scheduled speaker, as is House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. Senate Republicans instead will be represented at the event by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

It’s unclear whether an invitation was extended to Sessions, and a spokesman for the foundation and event did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Portman, a former Office of Management and Budget director under President George W. Bush, has a previous relationship with Peterson and often speaks to groups and to the media on budget issues.

Murray and Ryan have been in negotiations for weeks on a potential conference committee to merge the House and Senate budgets. The Senate marked up and approved its first budget in four years in March, in part because of years’ worth of Republican pressure to do so. Though Murray and Ryan have issued a joint statement on the matter, an official statement on the issue of a conference process could not be found either on the GOP Budget Committee website or in a CQ Roll Call search of past press releases emailed to reporters but not posted online.

In the Budget Committee’s latest hearing, on President Barack Obama’s budget, other GOP members mentioned a conference but Sessions did not. For example, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said he supported a conference committee as “regular order.”

When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., offered a unanimous consent agreement to convene a budget conference, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., objected on the behalf of Sessions, who said he had a conflict and could not do so himself.

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