Ranking Republican on Budget Committee Forces Democratic Staffers to Admit Details of Budget Are Not As Public Have Been Told
In news this week from the U.S. Senate, Thursday’s dustup between U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) on 2nd Amendment questions stole much of the media spotlight, but elsewhere an ongoing battle of wills between the two ranking members of the Senate Budget Committee – Democratic chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) – heated up early in the budget talks that are soon to be the center ring act in the sequestration circus.
Murray’s announced earlier in the week the first budget Senate Democrats have produced during Pres. Obama’s entire time in office, a progressive counterbalance to a conservative House Republican plan that chisels away at federal spending, proposes demolition of Obamacare and redesigns how future generations will receive entitlements such as Medicaid and Social Security.
If Americans really do crave stark contrasts in their political choices, the Murray plan as sold will fully satisfy those desires.
But if Sessions is right, Murray and Democrats have seriously misled the public about the size of deficit reductions and tax increases in the plan. While Murray peddles a figure of $975 billion in targeted tax increases on the wealthy to achieve $1.85 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, the Senate Republican budget staff finds $1.5 trillion in tax hikes and a mere $300 in deficit reductions over that period. Democrats are not denying that their plan also increases spending by $1.1 trillion.
In Thursday’s Budget Committee hearing, Sessions asked Democratic budget staffers to explain the discrepancies inducing a game of semantic cat and mouse that produced a rare moment of honesty from Deputy Democratic Budget Committee Staff Director John Righter.
SEN. SESSIONS: “Can you honestly say that under this budget you can achieve $1.85 trillion in deficit reduction and eliminate the sequester with only [$975 billion] in new taxes?”
The gotcha moment takes place near the 6:30 mark in an edited video of the hearing (right) and one almost hears tires screeching outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building as Murray quickly interjects, giving Righter a moment to compose himself and make a quick getaway.
Sessions, however, was nowhere near finished with his preliminary audit of Murray’s fiscal plan.
Is the rest of the 12-minute dialogue between Sessions, Murray and her budget experts wonky and weedy? Yes, because despite the fact that the use of double-accounting is considered unethical (in some cases criminal) by the financial accounting profession, discussing it never boils down into sexy soundbites fit for low-attention span political chit-chat. But, oh boy, is it ever important. With the manner of a calm country physician expressing infection from deep within a wound, Sessions coaxes forth the truth and blows a monstrous hole in Murray’s and Senate Democrats’ $1.85 trillion deficit reduction claim.
“Are you counting the $1.1 trillion in added expenditure by the turning off of the sequester?” Sessions asks the Democratic team at one point. Without a straight answer at first, Sessions – a former Attorney General of Alabama – circles back to make his challenge more direct.
“I believe you are not counting – not believe, it’s a fact – you’re not counting the additional $1.1 trillion that increases spending when you change the sequester and as a result you can’t use your new tax revenue and some other cuts to pay for it,” Sessions charged.
“You can’t flip-flop baselines around here,” Sessions chided Righter. “You claim under your baseline that you’re going to eliminate the sequester which would add $1.1 trillion – with interest – in spending.”
“If we can’t agree on a trillion dollars, we are really showing how it is that our country is in such a financial state,” Sessions concluded.
After the day’s hearing, the Murray Budget was approved on a straight party-line vote and moves to the full Senate.