WASHINGTON -- The House or Senate might reject a final proposal for raising the debt ceiling if the plan does not make sufficient cuts, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said on Wednesday, arguing that the negotiation process should be more transparent to prevent a bad deal from landing on lawmakers at the last minute.
"I'm very worried that a last-minute proposal that's insufficient could be turned down in the House or the Senate, and we could have a crisis that we don't need to have," Sessions told reporters.
Lawmakers are currently working with the White House on a deal to raise the debt limit, which is currently set at $14.29 trillion, in exchange for trillions of dollars in spending cuts and savings. But the negotiations, led by Vice President Joe Biden, reached an impasse about two weeks ago when Republican lawmakers abruptly quit over the issue of tax increases.
Now, with the deal's Aug. 2 deadline fast approaching, President Barack Obama and congressional leaders are working out broad strokes, including the level of cuts and whether the deal will include revenue-raisers. Sessions said these closed-door talks could produce a result that the broader caucuses will not support. One such meeting is scheduled for Thursday.
"I'm not confident about the White House meeting this week," Sessions said. "I don't know what will happen if it doesn't go well, but as far as I'm concerned, if the president isn't far more forthcoming and if there isn't more real progress, something else has to be done. We shouldn't just continue to be lulled with meeting after meeting in secret without the public knowing what's going on with their financial future."
Lawmakers in the House and Senate, especially House GOP freshmen, have said they hoped to avoid reaching a deal on the debt limit at the eleventh hour, recalling efforts to avert a government shutdown earlier this year. That deal, which funded the government for the remainder of the year, was brokered by leaders from the House, Senate and White House with little room for input from the rest of the parties, causing many to feel jilted by the final outcome.
Sessions cautioned against the White House parachuting into the debt limit talks to present a deal that was produced through secret meetings.
"It's not helpful to have a budget if it's going to be secret," he said. "It's a phantom budget."
Instead, he called for Senate Democrats to put forth a budget that can be debated in committees, marked up and taken to the Senate floor for amendments. He criticized a forthcoming budget from Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who is submitting Senate Democrats' first budget proposal for the year, for including tax increases and too few spending cuts. But Sessions, a ranking member of the Budget Committee, rejected the idea that Republicans should advance their own budget for debate.
"I voted for the House budget and I voted for the Toomey budget," he said. "I voted for two plans. No Democrat in the Senate has voted for a single budget plan. The majority party moves the budget."