By Alicia M. Cohn - 11/22/11 05:18 PM EST
"I don't see how the president can win when he's not a player in the great debate of our time," said Sessions, the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee. "I don't think a mayor or a governor would imagine not being engaged in such an important issue."
Republicans accused Obama of a failure in leadership this week as the Wednesday deadline set for the 12-member supercommittee loomed nearer and negotiations ground to a halt over the weekend.
Obama and Democrats on Monday blamed Republican members of the committee for their refusal to raise taxes as part of a bargain, particularly blaming the GOP for wanting to protect the "wealthiest Americans" rather than asking them to pay more.
"I am totally confident the Republican members wanted agreement," Sessions said. "[They] were willing to raise taxes to get it."
Had the president really pushed for an agreement, "we could have done something historic," Sessions said.
The senator began blaming Obama for an "irresponsible" failure to lead in the deficit-reduction negotiations on Monday before the supercommittee made its announcement.
"The commander in chief is absent from battle," Sessions said on Fox News. "The president is not providing any leadership, and basically encouraging his committee not to reach an agreement so he can attack and run a political campaign on that."
The White House on Monday pushed back against GOP criticism. "It's never been a mystery for the members of this committee what the president thinks," said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
"Congress assigned itself a job, assigned 12 of its own members a task, a task that wasn’t really that difficult to achieve,” Carney said. “There wasn’t a seat at that table, as far as I’m aware, for a member of the administration.”
Obama called on Congress to fulfill its responsibility in his response to the supercommittee's failure on Monday evening, warning that he would not take off the pressure to compromise.
The president pledged to veto attempts to get around the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts that will target both defense and discretionary spending. Sessions told CNN that the $600 billion in planned defense spending cuts is "just too much" to take away from the military, and House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) vowed on Monday to introduce legislation to prevent steep automatic spending cuts to the department.
Obama said the only way to avoid these cuts will be for Congress to come up with a deficit-reduction deal before the cuts take place in 2013.
“There will be no easy off-ramps on this one. We need to keep the pressure up on a compromise," Obama said. "We still have a year."