Updated: 11:31 p.m.
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) will not seek to be ranking member of the Budget Committee, clearing the way for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to remain in the post.
After speaking on the matter, Enzi has agreed to back Sessions as ranking member, according to an Enzi spokesman.
“America has to have a budget that works to get spending right. I hope he gets to do a budget. I am also on the Budget Committee and will continue to work with him,” Enzi said in an email from the aide.
With Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announcing this week that he is likely to be the new ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Enzi appears done as ranking member of that panel, having served for six years.
Enzi has seniority on the Budget Committee over Sessions, the current ranking member, but until now had not publicly said whether he would seek to unseat him. Just two years ago, Sessions was pushed out as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Earlier today, Enzi’s office said he had made no decision, but did not rule out the possibility he would assert his seniority on the Budget Committee. Enzi also serves on the Finance Committee, but he does not have the seniority to take over from current ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
A GOP committee aide said earlier in the day that Enzi had already deferred to Sessions.
“Sen. Sessions has no greater friend than Sen. Enzi,” the aide said. “They’ve spoken and he graciously agreed to support Sen. Sessions for this next two year cycle as ranking member. “Sen. Sessions considers him a deeply valuable partner in fiscal reform and admires Sen. Enzi’s leadership in the Senate.”
“I deeply value Senator Enzi’s friendship and, like my colleagues, greatly admire his leadership on so many vital issues,” Sessions said in an email through an aide. “He is an invaluable partner on the budget committee and one of the most respected voices in Congress. I look forward to working with him to tackle our nation’s fiscal challenges.”
GOP ranking members are chosen by members of the committee, but their decision must also be ratified by the Republican Conference.
Enzi could become ranking member of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, a spot that will be vacant because of the retirement of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). The next Republican by seniority is Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), but he is likely to take the ranking member spot of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Enzi or Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) would then be in line for the Small Business post.
Along with the Budget and Judiciary committees, Sessions serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee. He also serves on the Armed Services Committee, but Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who was term limited as the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, is expected to take that post.
Alexander announced Thursday evening in a release that he anticipates taking over the top Republican spot on the HELP Committee. The release touted a hearing set for next week that will investigate a recent meningitis out break.
“In the new Congress, Alexander is likely to be ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is holding the hearing entitled ‘Pharmacy Compounding: Implications of the 2012 Meningitis Outbreak,’” the release said.
Enzi has served as HELP’s ranking member for six years, and spent two years as chairman. Republican rules say that a Member cannot serve as chairman of a committee for six years, plus six as ranking member. It’s unclear what the limits are on years spent only as ranking member.
But the prevailing wisdom is that Enzi will move on.
“If the Republicans had taken control of the Senate, [Enzi] could have been HELP Committee chair, but since he has served six years as ranking member, I believe he can’t keep that slot,” said Joel Packer, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding.
The Budget Committee ranking member position is a desirable spot right now, as the panel is likely to be at the heart of the Congressional debate on fiscal issues.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who is currently the Democratic Conference Secretary, is expected to be chairwoman of the panel following the retirement of current Chairman Kent Conrad (R-N.D.).
Alexander has the opportunity to become the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, sources said, but subcommittee assignments are still in flux. He is currently the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.
Coincidentally, HELP Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) also heads the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.
Emily Etheridge, Lauren Smith and Paul Krawzak contributed to this report.