Sessions threatens to block budget votes, Memorial Day recess

Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) threatened on Monday to derail planned budget resolution votes this week — as well as the Memorial Day recess — to protest Democrats’ lack of a budget plan.

The move could complicate consideration of the House-passed budget, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), although Democrats still will be able to bring that plan up for a vote.

{mosads}Sessions is protesting the fact that Senate Democrats have failed to produce a budget alternative to the House GOP resolution. All 47 Republican senators sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday demanding that Democrats produce their own version. 

An aide denied the move was an attempt to avoid a painful vote on the House budget, which changes Medicare into a type of voucher system. Sessions said he would vote for that plan.

Sessions said his move was designed to send a message to Reid.

“If you object to the House GOP plan, or to other Republican plans, then you must come forward with your own honest plan to prevent financial catastrophe and create a more prosperous future,” Sessions said on the Senate floor.

He said leadership’s planned series of votes on a variety of budget resolutions is designed as a “gimmick to distract attention from the Senate’s failure to produce an honest plan.”

“They are designed to keep this Senate from doing its job, really, in defending this republic from grave financial danger,” Sessions said. “So I, therefore, will not provide unanimous consent for any prearranged package of votes doomed to fail, intended to fail. Anyone can call up these budget votes consistent with the rules any time they wish, but a package deal that wastes the Senate’s time I cannot and will not support.”

Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had agreed to hold votes on the House budget as well as President Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget.

Scheduling these votes on a preset timeline requires unanimous consent (UC) in the Senate. If there is no such consent, a cloture vote would be necessary. Sessions announced on the floor that he would not consent to scheduling a package of votes.

Votes on the Ryan and Obama budgets can still happen separately this week, though, because budget resolutions get special treatment under Senate rules. 

A budget resolution can be called from the calendar at any time, aides and congressional experts said. Budget resolutions, including those introduced by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), are also privileged and do not require a cloture vote. 

Sessions also threatened Monday to object to a motion to adjourn for the Memorial Day recess on Friday. However, such a motion cannot be filibustered under Senate rules, so the effect of his threat is to force a majority to vote for a recess. 

One GOP aide said it would be embarrassing for Democrats to vote to take a vacation when they have not produced a budget. 

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) last Thursday announced he would not mark up a budget resolution until the debt ceiling talks being led by Vice President Joe Biden produce an agreement. Critics note that Conrad had been unable, as of last week, to get all the Democrats on his committee to agree on a mix of spending cuts and tax increases to go in the budget resolution.

Instead, Reid has called for a vote on the Ryan plan on Thursday. 

Reid’s spokesman Jon Summers said in a tweet that Sessions had demonstrated that the GOP is afraid to vote on the Ryan plan.

“In case anyone had any doubts, Sen. Sessions just made it clear: Repubs are petrified of voting on their own party’s plan to end Medicare,” he said.

Sessions spokesman Stephen Miller responded that critics, including Summers, are showing they do not understand Senate budget rules.

“Aside from the fact that these quotes prove Sen. Sessions’s point about the comically and tragically unserious behavior of Senate Democrats, they also reveal a remarkable ignorance of Senate rules,” he said. “Sessions’s withholding UC will in no way prevent the vote on the Ryan budget from going forward. Under the Budget Act, no UC is required. UC just refers to a pre-packaged deal, which the senator says he will not be a party to as long as it’s being used as a guise to prevent the Senate Democrats from bringing forth a budget and allowing the budget committee to conduct a meeting.”

This article was posted at 4:38 p.m. and updated at 5:40 p.m. and at 7:59 p.m.

Tags Harry Reid Jeff Sessions Joe Biden Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Rand Paul

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