Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) was on the road Thursday, traveling the ”beautiful state of Alabama,” he told me in a phone interview. Although the scenery there was pretty, the country’s economic outlook is bleak . Sessions is blistering in his criticism of the Obama administration.
I asked him about the Moody’s announcement and whether a downgrade in the U.S., bond rating was a concern. He replied, “ It has been obvious to all of us — to all objective observers — that we need to take strong steps now for the sake of our country and to get off the unsustainable path we are on.” He cautions that the debt crisis, if not addressed now, would be the “most predictable financial crisis in history.” He cites warnings by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner that show that these officials understand the debt is unsustainable.
Unfortunately, Sessions says, that realization seems not have sunk in with President Obama. “One of the most striking things,” he tells me, “is that the president has systematically avoided talking seriously about the debt and why we need to change.” He finds it “unthinkable” that the president has “shown no leadership.” Indeed, his office regularly puts out notices tallying the number of days with no Senate budget (it was 764 on Thursday) and observing that the president, although he gave a speech at George Mason University attacking the House budget, never submitted an actual revised budget that could be scored and debated.
Sessions is not optimistic that the talks led by Vice President Biden will result in a deal. He chuckles, “I guess hope springs eternal . . . but it’s now 100 degrees in Alabama.” Translation: The time for hope is about up. He added, “We can hope [for a Biden deal], but this is not a good prospect.”
The problem is that the president, after his widely panned initial budget, never put out concrete plans, says Sessions, that “could be analyzed by the American people.” He notes that, whether one agrees with it or not, the House “did that — they produced a budget.” He continues, “ The net effect of this is that the president has allowed the Republicans to drive the agenda.”
This weak economic numbers released in the past few days “absolutely” concern him. He says that both Geithner and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) accept the analysis of economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff who concluded that once debt gets to 90 percent of gross domestic product, growth falls by 1 percent. Noting that we’ve now passed 90 percent and will be heading to debt equal to 100 percent of GDP by September, Sessions says that “under that analysis we’ve already lost 1 percent of GDP, ” which translates into a million jobs. “The debt is subtly pulling down the economy and producing fear and uncertainty,” he tells me. He rattles through the latest figures. “The numbers are not good. Consumer confidence is not good. Consumer spending is not good. Housing is stunningly bad . . . inventories are up.”
With the billions spent on stimulus and the Fed’s monetary policy, Sessions warns that “there is not that much ammunition left” to spur the economy. He’s blunt that “there is a lack of understanding of reality” in the White House’s economic approach.
He argues that the outstanding trade deals “are job creators.” But they haven’t been moved ahead by the White House. Sessions is at a loss to explain why. He also decries the decision of “an unelected lawyer”at the National Labor Relations Board attempting to prevent Boeing from opening a plant in South Carolina, a precedent he calls “dangerous.”And he takes the administration to task for failure to promote domestic energy development. (He’s just come from a town hall meeting where he has heard complaints that the “non-production of off shore drilling” is costing jobs.) Along with the potential for new tax increases and burdensome regulation, Sessions contends that these policies are preventing us from “doing this to make our economy more productive.”
In total, these policies, Sessions says, “show the president is focused more on politics than on making America a more productive nation.” Sessions repeatedly makes a central point: Obama has failed to lead on the critical issues we are facing. That’s a complaint some Democrats have raised as well. If the majority of voters come to believe that as well and the economy does not improve significantly, Obama will face a dicey election. Meanwhile, Sessions is waiting for that Senate Democrats’ budget. Friday is day 765.