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GOP senators battle for Budget gavel

GOP senators battle for Budget gavel
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GOP offices say Republican Senate leaders weren’t involved in Sen. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziThe unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality Lummis adopts 'laser eyes' meme touting Bitcoin MORE’s (R-Wyo.) decision to challenge Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for the Senate Budget Committee gavel.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell shoots down Manchin's voting compromise Environmental groups urge congressional leaders to leave climate provisions in infrastructure package Loeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run MORE’s (R-Ky.) office said it didn’t know why Enzi jumped into the race when asked if his decision was the result of pressure from GOP leaders.

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“I don’t have any insights into Sen. Enzi’s decision, you’ll have to ask him,” Don Stewart, McConnell’s communications director, told The Hill.

Enzi’s office also said the longtime Wyoming senator made the decision on his own.

“No one in leadership pushed him to do this, but hopefully they and the rest of the GOP in the Senate will support his decision,” said Enzi’s communications director Coy Knobel.

Enzi wants to become the panel’s chairman because he believes he can do “a lot of good,” Knobel added.

Sessions’s office declined to comment for this story.

Enzi’s entry into the race triggers a battle with Sessions, who has served as the panel’s ranking Republican for the last four years.

During that time, Sessions has burnished his brand, emerging as a conservative star with tough criticisms of government spending and the Obama administration’s handling of immigration laws.

The fiery approach has won him plaudits from the right.

In an editorial Monday, the conservative magazine The National Review announced its support of Sessions for Budget chairman and touted his “great deal of practical experience and success” on the panel.

“Senator Enzi has gotten his votes right, but Sessions has distinguished himself with his passion for key conservative priorities and has proven himself capable of communicating public arguments in their behalf,” the editorial said.

Other observers wonder if GOP leaders want someone else at the top of the panel.

Bill Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said Senate GOP leaders want to produce a budget next year that caters to the entire conference. He suggested they may think Enzi is the better person for that job.

“It’ll be a close call, but there may be reasons why Mr. McConnell, and Republican leadership of the Senate, will conclude why Mr. Enzi would be more successful in achieving that than Mr. Sessions at this point in time,” Hoagland said.

Under Senate Republican Conference rules, only GOP committee members can vote to elect the chairman of that committee, Stewart said.

Leadership could play a role, however, in which members are appointed to each committee.

McConnell recently tapped Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) to lead the Committee on Committees, responsible for determining committee assignments.

At this point, it’s not clear how many Republicans will be on the Budget panel, given the runoff next month between Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). A Cassidy win could increase the GOP margin on the committees.

Republicans generally choose chairmen based on seniority, and Enzi has more seniority than Sessions on the Budget Committee by virtue of drawing lots in 1997 that said if they both become members of the same committee in the same year, Enzi would have the upper hand.

They both joined the Budget panel in 2003.  

At this point, aides could not say whether nominations to committees and chairmanship elections will take place in the lame-duck session or in January.

Because Republicans will get extra seats on all of the committees in the next Senate — and because GOP leaders will pick those new members — leadership has an opportunity to win votes for favored candidates.  

“Those empty seats will be filled by the leadership and that will tend to be helpful to whichever candidate the leadership favors [for chairman],” said Scott Lilly, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Despite the denials that leadership pressured Enzi to run, Democrats and some neutral observers suspect McConnell is making moves behind the curtain.

“If I were in their position, I would certainly be looking for a more reasonable person to take charge of the committee,” Lilly said.

Sessions has recently spoken out against President Obama’s executive actions on immigration and has threatened to defund the orders, raising the risk of another government shutdown.

But budget experts believe it is the looming budgetary issues, and not immigration, that is on the radar for GOP leaders.

“I think in the beginning, the leadership may have been looking at whether there was a better person who was better capable of appealing to the mainstream or producing a budget resolution that could actually pass the Senate,” said Stan Collender, executive vice president at Qorvis Communications.

Republicans will face pressure next year to relieve sequestration, tackle tax reform and control long-term mandatory spending, Jim Dyer, principal at Podesta Group, said.

Dyer, a former aide to Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, also spent more than 25 years on Capitol Hill, including time on the House Appropriations Committee.

“With Sen. Enzi’s entrance into it, I believe based on the seniority system alone, he would be the favorite,” Dyer said about the race.

The next presidential election, he agreed, will also weigh on the chairmanship election. Whoever the GOP candidate is, they will have to defend the Republican budget and the Republican Congress’s record.

Ultimately, Hoagland said Republicans want to avoid a difficult, challenging vote on a budget in the next Congress “that can be turned into a 30-second campaign ad in 2016 against a Republican.”

Besides the presidential election, Republicans will be defending 24 seats in the Senate compared to 10 for Democrats.