Sessions on Obama's Budget: 'This Is the Way a Nation Goes Broke'

By Susan Jones | March 6, 2014 | 11:55 AM EST

OMB Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell (AP File Photo)

( - It was a simple question, but not willingly answered: Does President Obama plan to spend $56 billion more than he agreed to spend ten weeks ago, when he signed the Ryan-Murray budget agreement?

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) repeatedly asked that question of President Obama's budget director on Wednesday, but he couldn't get a straight answer from Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

Finally, exasperated, Sessions answered the question himself:

"The answer're asking us to raise the spending limit by changing the Ryan-Murray law so you can spend even more than you agreed to spend ten weeks ago. And this is the way a nation goes broke."

According to a Senate Budget Committee analysis, President Obama's Fiscal Year 2015 budget -- over a ten-year period through FY 2024 -- would increase discretionary and mandatory spending by $762 billion.

A partial transcript of the Sessions-Burwell exchange appears below: Burwell, director of the White House Office on Management and Budget, was testifying before the Senate Budget Committee, of which Sessions is the ranking Republican:


Sessions: Ms. Burwell, I think you'd acknowledge plainly that the president's budget calls for spending on the discretionary side -- $56 billion more than the Ryan Murray bill that was passed about ten weeks ago. Is that correct?

Burwell: In a paid-for initiative.

Sessions: The question is -- do you spend more than was agreed to in the spending limits of the Ryan-Murray bill?

Burwell: We propose an initiative that would be paid for to do that.

Sessions: And you would spend $56 billion more?

Burwell: Only if paid for.

Sessions: But do you not agree that the Ryan-Murray law did not say "paid for." It simply limited the amount of spending. And you're spending over the amount that that bill allows to be spent.

Burwell: Um, senator, when the caps were put in place -- and I had the opportunity to work with the caps in the first round when I was at OMB -- much of why the caps were put in place was deficit reduction---

Sessions: No, you're talking about -- you're theorizing about the purpose of it. The law limited spending, did it not, and you are spending over what the law requires.

Burwell: Senator, only if the Congress would choose to pass a law that would alter that. Our budget comes in at the levels---

Sessions: So you are proposing that we alter Ryan-Murray so you can spend $56 billion more next year alone.

Burwell: What we are proposing --

Sessions: Yes or no, is that correct?

Burwell: We propose a paid-for--

Sessions: Can't you answer that question simply? Yes or no, do you propose to spend $56 billion more than Ryan-Murray allows, and you're proposing that we change Ryan-Murray to allow you to do so. yes or no?

Burwell: Senator, we do propose a change in the law that would be fully paid for, that would invest in the things that we believe are necessary for the economic health of the nation.

Sessions: So you're spending $56 billion more and you're going to raise taxes to pay for it, and you think that's acceptable?

Burwell: Senator, we believe---

Sessions: And I just want you to know I ask you to tell the American people, do you want to spend more than the president agreed to when he signed Ryan-Murray ten weeks ago. Can't you just simply answer the question. Yes or no, do you intend to spend more than Ryan-Murray and will that not require an amending of the law to allow you to do so.

Burwell: It will require an amending of the law.

Sessions: And it will spend $56 billion more.

Burwell: Not in--

Sessions: I'm not talking about paid-for, I'm  not talking about budgets, I'm just saying, are you spending more than the law allows currently?

Burwell: Senator, I believe it makes a very big difference--

Sessions: Why can't you say yes or no to that?

Burwell: Senator, because I think that some questions are not simple yes or no questions--

Sessions: Well, you've had your explanation, and now I'm asking, yes or no, are you (spending) more or less.

Burwell: I think there are some questions that are not simple yes or no questions, therefore --

Sessions: This is a yes or no question. You're refusing to answer it. I will answer it. the answer is that you're going to spend -- you're asking us to raise the spending limit by changing the Ryan-Murray law so you can spend even more than you agreed to spend even ten weeks ago. And this is the way a nation goes broke.

(The Ryan-Murray budget agreement replaced part of the sequester, increasing spending by $63 billion in FY 2014 and 2015. But, as the Heritage Foundation noted, the spending increases that happen now are supposed to be paid for by a blend of future spending cuts and revenue increases.)