Sessions blames Obama for lack of grand bargain

Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said President Obama’s lack of leadership was the reason the bipartisan budget agreement wasn’t "grand."

“I wish we had a deal that was grand and great,” Sessions said Tuesday, after the Senate voted to end debate on a budget deal he opposed. “It was within our grasp, but we were unable to make those choices. … I really believe if the president had lead, we could have done it.”

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Twelve Senate Republicans joined all 55 Democrats and independents on Tuesday to advance the bipartisan budget deal approved in a landslide House vote last week. President Obama also supports the measure.

The bill sets top-line spending levels for 2014 and 2015 and reduces the sequester spending cuts by $63 billion over the next two years.

Sessions has criticized the bill for not cutting more spending or addressing entitlements, among several other complaints, but Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said that’s why the deal with her House counterpart Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) worked.

“We weren’t going to try to tackle the larger challenges we both knew were critical — but weren’t going to be solved right now.” Murray said ahead of the cloture vote. “So we focused on what was attainable, worked together to find common ground, and looked for ways we could compromise and take some steps toward the other.”

The bill includes a House amendment to prevent a cut in physician payments under Medicare known as the “doc fix.” For three months, it would give Medicare doctors a 0.5 percent payment increase through the end of March.

It would also give Congress three months to permanently fix this problem, although Congress has been unable to do that for years. The Congressional Budget Office said the three-month bill would cost $8.7 billion.

To offset the restored sequester cuts, the bill would reduce federal employee retirement benefits by $6 billion. Military retiree benefits are also cut by $6 billion.

The bill raises airline security fees from $2.50 to $5.60 per ticket and includes $28 billion in future cuts to Medicare fees. The deal also uses revenue from new oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and from higher premiums on government-backed private sector pensions.

Sessions said fee and premium increases were the same as raising taxes, adding that he was disappointed all the government savings weren’t achieved through spending cuts.

“There is a lot we can do to make this government leaner and more productive and it is our duty to do so,” Sessions said.

By invoking cloture in a 67-33 vote, the Senate set up 30 hours of debate on the measure. That means a final vote would come Wednesday, though many expect Republicans will yield back time and allow a final vote on Tuesday.