Jeff Sessions Votes to Cut “Mandatory” Appropriations Then Insists Focus Must Be Exclusively on Discretionary Spending

When given a chance to vote on HR 1, the House Republican appropriation for fiscal year 2011, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama joined all of his Republican colleagues in voting for it stringent cuts. The bill in question avoided any rollbacks of spending on Medicare or Medicaid, but did involve many cuts in smaller, less well-known mandatory spending programs. Nevertheless, despite having voted for substantial mandatory cuts, Sessions yesterday denounced the idea that mandatory spending should be on the table in the appropriations negotiations:

“If you just cut from domestic discretionary you’ll have to cut things like helping students go to college, you’ll have to cut scientific research, including cancer research,” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” Changes in mandatory programs, or CHIMPs, are “how we can come to an agreement that both keeps job growth and cuts the deficit at about the $33 billion level,” Schumer said.

But many in the GOP, including the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said discretionary spending should remain the focus and that the goal for overall cuts should be the House-passed $61 billion.

Neither Sessions nor Jonathan Allen and Jake Sherman from Politico who wrote the piece seem to realize that Sessions already voted for mandatory cuts. Since Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid constitute the vast majority of mandatory spending, people often assume those are the only non-discretionary programs. But they’re not. Sessions voted for cuts to SNAP Employment and Training, to cut the Watershed Rehabilitation Program, to cut DOJ’s Crime Victims Fund, to cut the Department of the Interior’s Coastal Impact Assistance spending, etc.

The point is not that mandatory spending should be off the table. But it’s pretty rich of Sessions to go vote for a bunch of mandatory spending cuts and then cry foul when Chuck Schumer says the menu of options ought to be expanded. What’s more, my suspicion is that Sessions is genuinely confused here. He probably doesn’t really know which programs are mandatory and which are discretionary, and doesn’t really know which programs he’s voted to cut and what they do. He’s been reassured that he’s not doing anything to damage the interests of rich farmers or defense contracts, so it’s just cut away as far as he’s concerned.