For weeks, Sen. Jeff Sessions, top Republican on the Budget Committee has been hammering Democrats for not producing a budget in two years. He has even been counting down the days since a Democratic budget was produced. And on Tuesday, it appeared his needling hit a nerve in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who took to the floor to chastise the Alabama conservative.
"I heard our friend...come here and talk for hours, and he keeps talking about things that really have no bearing on what I think is important for the country today, and that is, we know that the Republicans have put forward a budget that destroys Medicare," Reid charged and soon after held a news conference to slam Republicans further on the Medicare front, clearly trying to regain the traction Democrats feel they made before the Weiner scandal bumped them from the headlines.
The move set off Sessions, whose staff blasted out an e-mail to reporters warning that their boss was headed to the floor to answer the majority leader.
"I've been harping away on that," Sessions said about his budget tirades, "I guess he got a little tired of my harping."
Then, the bespectacled Sessions, who appeared happy to have gotten Reid's goat, had a staffer haul out a giant, white poster board with the gigantic numbers in black: 776, the number of days since a Democratic budget. Salt for the wound.
"We're spending $3.7 trillion. We're taking in $2.2 trillion," Sessions said, "That's a stunning number, and one of the reasons it's so out of control is that we don't have a budget."
Reid, along with Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-ND, has said he is waiting for the bipartisan deficit reduction talks led by Vice President Joe Biden to conclude likely in July, before producing a budget, which provides a blueprint for spending. Both senators said Biden could need a legislative vehicle for any compromise product, a measure that would enjoy procedural protections in the Senate.
And though it is not likely a Democratic Senate and a Republican House will ever agree on a budget this year, Republicans, including Sessions, balked, at Reid's explanation, charging that Democrats are really hiding their intraparty squabbles over what to include in their budget and deep concerns about the looming 2012 election year. Republicans are also anxious to see what priorities Democrats will fund in their budget, what cuts might be made, and how soon, if at all, they can make the red ink disappear.
Ranting about global debt and its effect on the economy and the immediate need to reduce discretionary spending, Sessions said, "I want to say again, I have great affection for my friend, Senator Reid. He's got a tough job, but he asked for it. He asked for it. And when the country is in financial crisis, we expect the Majority Leader of the United States Senate to effectively lead and not to attack people who are trying to do the right thing."