Sen. Jeff Sessions struck a defiant tone Monday toward President Obama in advance of the State of the Union address, saying he does not think the president is serious about deficit reduction and that the GOP should fight him the same way that Newt Gingrich fought Bill Clinton in the mid-90’s.
Describing the looming battles that lay ahead over the coming year on spending, the Alabama Republican said in an interview: “I hope it won’t be as contentious as 94, but the stakes are higher financially, and it appears the differences may be greater.”
“That was a long two or three years of contentious political debate,” Sessions said of the clashes between the Clinton White House and the Republican House headed by the Republican speaker from Georgia.
“And what result? A balanced budget. And who deserves credit for it? Bill Clinton claimed credit, but Gingrich and company shut the government down over spending, they fought him every step of the way, month after month, bill after bill, and they put this country on a sound financial footing and deserve a lot of credit,” Sessions said.
The 1995 government shut down is widely seen as having damaged the Republican Party politically and as having revived Clinton’s fortunes, propelling him toward a second term. Most Republicans, and definitely GOP leadership in both the House and the Senate, have expressly avoided talking about any similar sort of standstill.
But Sessions, a third-term senator who will be an influential voice in the year ahead as the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, made clear he does not think the president will go far enough in his speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night to forestall the nation’s runaway deficits and debt.
“I frankly doubt that the president has it in him,” he said.
“I think he’ll make some proposals for spending reduction that will sound good, and I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think they’re the kind of spending restraints necessary to get this country off the wrong road,” Sessions said.
He laid out a rough sketch of how he believes Republicans should move after the State of the Union to heighten a contrast between Obama’s proposals and their own.
“The numbers have got to be driven home. We’ve got to invest a great deal of effort in helping the American people see that things are not as easily fixable,” he said. “It requires very severe, very serious actions to reverse the trends.”
After the president’s speech, Sessions said, the GOP should “compare what has to be done with what he’s proposing, and if he meets the task, we should thank him, shake hands and move forward in partnership.”
“But if this is another spin, then that has to be exposed,” he said. “We cannot concede an issue, and we cannot allow them to spin false information.”
Sessions was on a media blitz of sorts Monday, writing a Washington Post op-ed and appearing on Fox News and ABC News’ online political show “Top Line.” In each setting, the senator warned that the U.S. is on an unsustainable fiscal course because of its $14 trillion debt and its annual deficits of roughly $1 trillion.
The senator has called for a 10 percent reduction in non-defense discretionary spending, though he said even that is only a starting point for cutting into the federal government’s vast size and reach.
“I didn’t come to Washington to preside over the Europeanization of America,” he said.