Enzi Wins Budget Gavel Fight as Sessions Drops Bid

The Senate panel's current top Republican, a prominent immigration hawk, will step aside in January.

The weeks-long battle to chair the powerful Senate Budget Committee ended Wednesday with a peaceful accord, allowing Sen. Mike Enzi, the most senior Republican on the panel, to take the gavel in January.

Many believed that Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who has served as ranking member since 2011, would take over the Budget Committee in 2015. But Enzi, who holds a slight edge in seniority on the panel over Sessions, announced in November that he would challenge Sessions for the gavel shortly after Republicans won the majority.

Enzi said in a press release Wednesday that he and Sessions had come to an agreement to allow the Wyoming lawmaker to take over the committee next year.

Sessions' loss of the top slot on the committee could have a major impact on the immigration debate, as Republicans work to find an appropriate rebuttal to President Obama's executive action. Sessions is one of the leading opponents of the administration's actions on immigration and has carried the issue throughout his congressional career. Enzi is no more a fan of the administration's actions, but many on Capitol Hill saw the issue as the key focus of a Sessions-led Budget Committee.

Enzi's chairmanship will set a markedly different tone on the committee, where Sessions has been a vocal and energetic advocate for major spending cuts. Enzi and Sessions differ on little ideologically, but Enzi is a much more mild-mannered member, far less prone to the lively floor speeches and television appearances that are Sessions' bread and butter.

But, Enzi indicated Wednesday, Sessions will still play a big role on the committee. "Jeff is an outstanding leader and an outstanding speaker. If this were football, Jeff would be an all-star linebacker, corner, and safety all at the same time. He is our first line of defense on many issues. The team needs him and Jeff will be right there with his expertise taking the lead on welfare reform and, where we will miss Senator Coburn, Jeff will be there eliminating duplication and waste," Enzi said in the statement.

Sessions said he was grateful to Enzi for allowing him to take over as ranking member of the committee four years ago and was similarly optimistic about their partnership in 2015. "Mike is an accountant and a small businessman who understands the need to balance budgets and tell the truth about the numbers. He is a man of integrity and principle, respected by all of his Senate colleagues. I am eager to assist him next year, and I hope to tackle the important issue of welfare reform," Sessions said in a statement.

The agreement between Enzi and Sessions will avoid an all-out fight among Budget Committee members in January. The choice of a chairman must be ratified by members of the committee and the whole Republican Conference when members return to Washington in January, but it's unlikely that the handshake deal between Enzi and Sessions will be overturned.