In surprise, Wyoming Sen. Enzi will chair Senate Budget Committee as Ala. lawmaker steps aside

The Alabama lawmaker who has been the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee for the past four years ended his effort Wednesday to become the panel's chairman, clearing the way for a colleague from Wyoming to lead the committee when the GOP controls Congress next year.

The move means that Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., will chair the committee instead of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., according to emailed statements from both lawmakers.

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Though men both arrived in the Senate 18 years ago, Enzi has seniority on the Budget Committee — usually the key factor in determining committee chairmanships. Until now, he was best known for his work on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

In a surprise, Enzi said after last month's elections — in which Republicans captured Senate control — that he would pursue the Budget panel chairmanship.

Sessions and Enzi are both conservatives and had been expected to compete for the job.

In their statements, both senators lauded each other and said they'd made the decision after talking it over. They said Sessions would lead efforts to overhaul welfare.

The Budget Committee is expected to be at the center of GOP efforts next year to confront President Barack Obama over deficit cutting and other GOP policies.

Republican senators choose committee chairs by a vote of each panel's GOP members, which is then almost always rubber-stamped by the entire Senate GOP membership.