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Sen. Sessions: Withhold debt-ceiling increase until Senate passes budget plan

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FILE: Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., at a news conference on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C. (AP)

Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions is trying a new strategy to get the Senate to pass a budget, saying lawmakers should not increase the debt ceiling until the Democrat-controlled chamber finally passes a spending plan.

Congress will have to address three critical fiscal issues that each have deadlines over the next two-to-three months -- the debt ceiling, automatic federal spending cuts known as sequestration and a budget resolution. 

Federal law requires Congress to pass a budget plan every year. But while the Republican-controlled House has annually passed budgets, the Senate has not passed one since April 2009 --- making the Senate technically 1,350 days overdue. Congress instead operates on a series of short-term spending plans. The current resolution expires March 27. 

While many Republicans want to use the debt-ceiling vote to extract spending cuts, Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, sees it as a way to finally produce a budget. 

"If President Obama wants another loan from the American people, then his party controlling the Senate owes them a budget plan detailing how their money will be spent,” Sessions spokesman Stephen Miller said Monday. “There is growing support for incorporating this legal and moral principle into the debt ceiling."

Among the conservative theories for why Washington has not passed a bona fide new budget in years is that Washington Democrats would face public backlash for the amount of spending they would include in a new spending plan. Another is Democrats won’t pass a budget because they would rather use the elevated spending levels in the last budget as the baseline for the spending resolutions that have since been passed.  

Obama and other Democrats, though, say using the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip is irresponsible and could bring the nation to the brink of default. 

"One thing that I will not compromise over is whether or not Congress should pay the tab for a bill they’ve already racked up," the president said Saturday in his weekly address. "The last time Congress threatened this course of action, our entire economy suffered for it."

Session has not been specific about how he would force an agreement to raise the debt ceiling to be tied to a Senate budget promise – or how Republicans could enforce the agreement.

However, among the strategies being considered is an agreement that would restrict or cancel debt-limit funds that have been authorized if a Senate plan isn't brought to the committee, and then the floor, by a certain date.