Numbers trip up Alabama’s Sessions again

Numbers trip up Alabama's Sessions again
Numbers trip up Alabama's Sessions again
Getty Images

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is known to struggle in several key areas of public policy, but budgeting seems to be one of his more conspicuous weaknesses. This wouldn’t be quite as serious a problem were it not for the fact that he’s the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee.

Two years ago, after he assumed the role, even some Republicans worried Sessions wasn’t quite up to the job. “He’s not really a legislator,” one Republican aide said. “That’s the thing.”

But the Alabama senator keeps trying. The last we checked in with Sessions, he was badly mischaracterizing the results of a GAO report on the fiscal impact of the Affordable Care Act. Yesterday, the Republican was still stumbling, this time on a different issue.

Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat and chairwoman of the Budget Committee, argued Thursday that her new blueprint will reduce the deficit by $1.85 trillion over the next decade, divided equally between tax increases and spending cuts.

But Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the panel’s ranking Republican, said she only reduced the deficit by $700 billion at best, since more than $1 trillion of her cuts and tax increases are used to replace the across-the board sequester cuts, which are already written into the law and counted by the Congressional Budget Office.

During a committee discussion on the majority party’s budget, Sessions told Murray, “You’re using the money twice. You’re providing cuts that you’re now telling me are used to pay down the sequester.”

There’s a kernel of a fair argument in here, and if Sessions wants to make the case that the Democratic budget reduces the debt less than advertised, there’s room for a real conversation on the subject.

But as best as I can tell, Democrats are not “using the money twice.”

The Democratic budget plan, as shaped by Murray, cuts $975 billion in spending, and brings in $975 billion in new tax revenue. That’s $1.95 trillion in debt reduction, $100 billion of which Democrats hope to invest in job creation, bringing the new total to $1.85 trillion in debt reduction – on top of all the nearly $2.5 trillion in debt reduction approved over the last two years.

But, Sessions argues, there’s also sequestration to consider. Since the Senate Dems scrap the arbitrary, across-the-board cuts, there’s a problem – Democrats can’t apply savings to closing a budget shortfall and scrapping the sequester. They can’t, to use his words, “use the money twice.”

Right? Wrong. This gets a little wonky, but Brian Beutler sets the record straight by explaining everyone’s favorite budget issue: competing baselines.

…Republicans have decided to torture the numbers. First, they assume a baseline Democrats aren’t actually using – one where sequestration-level spending is permanent. Not a tricky move by itself. The tricky part comes next.

They reason that if Democrats are actually proposing to reduce deficits by $1.85 trillion, then the nearly $500 billion in tax revenues they dedicate to paying down sequestration (and another $100 billion in spending they dedicate to financing a new jobs proposal) would have to come on top of the $975 billion of tax increases the budget explicitly calls for.

In other words, Democrats want to raise $975 billion in new tax revenue and use some of it to turn off sequestration. Instead of accepting this, Republicans are claiming – falsely – that the revenue for paying down sequestration is in addition to the $975 billion. It is not.