Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions On The Budget Showdown And The Coming Government Shutdown
HH: I’m joined now by Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. Senator, always a pleasure to have you, thank you for joining us today.
JS: Thank you, Hugh.
HH: Now Senator, I’ve got a number of questions for you, but the number one is Kent Conrad came out today and said that the Paul Ryan plan is dead on arrival. Why in the world are we negotiating, why is the gang of six still meeting if he’s not willing to negotiate everything?
JS: You know, he said it was unreasonable and unsustainable, but I didn’t know he had absolutely gone that far. I think that does raise serious questions about whether any kind of agreement is possible, and says that we’re going to have to do what I felt we were going to have to do from the beginning, which is battle this out over every bill, next year’s budget, the debt limit, and just like they did in ’95, remember, when unfortunately, they shut the government down for a while? But the Republicans under Newt Gingrich and team balanced the budget.
JS: They balanced the budget. And it’s never easy to make changes, but Hugh, this thing is, we’re in a deeper hole than in ’94. This is a deep hole, and Paul Ryan’s plan is an honest, responsible, serious plan to get us out of this fix.
HH: Yeah, Senator Sessions, what disappoints me so much about Kent Conrad is I actually had been talking with your colleague, Tom Coburn and some others, and they said you know, these are real, these are important discussions. But when he comes out and does that on the heels of Chuck Schumer last week, I just think they’re all politicized. They have no intention of dealing with the serious problems confronting us. Or is there any reason that I should conclude otherwise?
JS: Hugh, that’s what I’m concluding, in all honesty. That’s exactly what I’ve concluded. And nobody knows. Maybe something good can happen yet. But it seems to me that we’ve been lulled along here. It seems to me that based on Conrad’s latest statement, and Schumer’s statements attacking the Tea Parties, saying that these reasonable cuts are extreme and those kinds of things, it indicates to me that there’s no serious understanding of the threat this nation faces, and the need to get our house in order.
HH: When you have a quiet moment, Senator Sessions, with your colleagues across the aisle, do they ever acknowledge that you simply cannot run deficits of one and a half trillion dollars year after year without destroying the currency?
JS: Yes, they do. And that’s why I felt that some hope might be possible. For example, you know, when Harry Reid offered his virtually nothing budget, $5 billion dollar cut, when we were at $61, ten Democrats broke ranks and did not vote for it. So it did indicate that they were willing to break with their leadership, believing that more reductions in spending should occur. But you know, a lot of people that have been around a long time say the real thing is the President. The real thing is the President. And if he’s opposing this, it looks like this team is going to stick with him.
HH: Now let me ask you, Senator Sessions, as well. I had James Inhofe on last week. Yesterday, I had on Lamar Alexander, or the day before, talking about this McConnell-Inhofe amendment. And it seems to me that there are Democrats who realize we can’t empower the EPA to regulate American business more than they already are, and drive them further into the ground. Is there any hope of getting a vote on that? Or is again, is the hard left in charge of the Democratic Party?
JS: Yes, there is a hope for getting a vote on that. And it was just voted, but actually, I’m not sure how the vote came out.
HH: So it’s being taken as we speak?
JS: Yeah, I think it’s being taken as we speak.
HH: All right. So walk me back to where we are in the big continuing resolution, Senator Sessions. What’s your advice to John Boehner in these negotiations, knowing what we know now?
JS: Well, I believe it’s important to establish to the American people, but in some ways, more importantly to the Democratic leadership and the President, that this past election has meaning. This is the first vote on spending since the election. It’s a very important vote. What level of spending will we incur through the rest of this fiscal year? And I believe it’s important that we demand a real change. They still are in denial. I mean, they didn’t want to have any changes. And the President’s budget, Hugh, is worse than the basic baseline we’re on now. It increases taxes $1.7 trillion dollars, it increases spending every single year, it increases the debt and doubles it again. The interest on our debt will go from $200 billion last year to $940 billion dollars in the tenth year of the President’s budget. It is the most irresponsible budget ever submitted to the United States Congress, in my opinion.
HH: Now in light of all that, do you think that the Republicans and conservatives generally are winning the argument with the American people? Do you think that they have effectively persuaded them that we’re in a crisis?
JS: I think that’s not certain. I think they’re doing pretty well, though. But what I think we’ve got to break through here, as you’ve indicated, Hugh, and say this is not a normal Republican-Democratic squabble. When you’re spending $3.7 trillion dollars, as we will by September 30th this year, but take in only $2.2? Forty cents of every dollar we’re spending is borrowed? I mean, and we’ve been doing this for three, four consecutive years now? It’s not a, this is not a path that you can stay on without creating a financial crisis. In reality, that means another recession that would be devastating to our economy.
HH: Or another panic. I think that’s even worse.
JS: Yes, some sort of panic.
HH: Yeah, now in terms of…
JS: Experts have told us that. This isn’t my opinion. I’m talking about Erskine Bowles…
JS: He said in two years or less we could have it. Alan Greenspan has said that we can have a debt crisis in two to three years.
HH: Now if there is a shutdown, there’s some very bad down sides. Military pay would be interrupted, for example. And I know that the House Republicans would put forward a bill that would fund the Pentagon through the rest of the year to avoid that. Will your colleagues on the Democratic side at least agree to take care of the military while this confrontation continues?
JS: I hope so. And they should. They’ve indicated that they know that we need to pay the military. But they may feel like somehow, they’re giving up some leverage, and they may stick together and refuse to do that. I hope not. We need to get the Defense budget settled this week. We do not need to leave that hanging out there.
HH: And in terms of the riders that the Republicans have requested on Planned Parenthood and Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Senator Sessions, do you think those survive any kind of negotiations?
JS: Well, I think they’re very important. I feel strongly that neither one of those have to have federal taxpayer money, especially for a lot of reasons. But the most important thing, I do say, Hugh, in my opinion, is we need to send the message to the whole world and the financial community that the new Congress is on a different path than the old Congress, and we’re going to bring spending under control. We’ve got to get as big an agreement on spending reduction as possible.
HH: Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, thank you. Good luck in pushing that forward, and I hope you’ll get a chance to see Tom Coburn or Saxby Chambliss or Mike Crapo today and tell them you know, that game is up. Kent Conrad made them look kind of dumb today. Made us all look kind of dumb for believing that he was actually serious to walk out there and say nothing on the Ryan plan. Thank you, Jeff Sessions.
End of interview.