Finance

Sparks fly at Senate budget hearing

A hearing of the Senate Budget Committee grew heated Tuesday when Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) accused a senior Obama administration official of not answering his question accurately.

A day after President Obama unveiled his fiscal 2016 budget blueprint, Sessions asked Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shaun Donovan whether the proposal spends more than the limits set by a budget deal Obama signed in 2011. 

“Our budget overall reduces spending relative to current law,” Donovan responded.

Sessions interrupted Donovan, laughed, and said, “You work for the taxpayers, Mr. Donovan. I’m asking you on their behalf a simple question. Does your budget spend more money next year than current law allows? 

Donovan again said, “Overall, our budget reduces spending compared to current law.” 

{mosads}Sessions noted that Obama’s proposed budget asks Congress to breach the sequestration spending ceilings set by that 2011 law by $74 billion for domestic programs and the Pentagon.

“We are proposing to reverse sequestration,” said Donovan, who added that the spending limits are hurting military readiness and economic growth.

“I’m going to ask you one more time,” Sessions said. “Let’s see if we can get this straight. You proposed to spend more next year than the Budget Control Act would allow?” 

The administration, Donovan repeated, wants to lift sequestration budget caps and would offset those increases with mandatory spending reductions.

“So you intended to say you are proposing to spend more than we agreed to?” Sessions said. “Why won’t you say that? What about this that allows you to continue in that way?”

Discretionary spending is “not driving our deficits,” Donovan said. 

President Obama’s budget proposal, which was sent to Congress on Monday, would reverse the sequester with cuts to mandatory spending, changes to the tax code and eliminating government waste.

On the plan to replace sequestration, some Democrats and Republicans on the panel appeared to welcome the proposal to at least raise the Pentagon’s budget.   

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said he has always called sequestration “stupidity on steroids.” 

“At the end of the day, there seems to be some common ground here,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said. “Sequestration needs to be fixed.”

Updated at 2:10 p.m.

Tags Jeff Sessions Lindsey Graham Mark Warner Shaun Donovan

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