Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama delivered a powerful argument Friday for deep cuts in federal spending to avert an economic downturn far worse than the sharp recession of 2008 and 2009.

“The only real question is how much road is left between us and the edge of the cliff,” he said in his first address as the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. “But where is the leadership from this administration?” he said.

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke was sitting in front of Sessions as he spoke, waiting to testify.

“Instead of slowing down [spending], President Obama has hit the accelerator,” Sessions said. “But simply easing off the pedal won’t solve our problem. When you’re driving toward a cliff at 90 miles per hour, you can’t just slow down to 60. You need to hit the brakes and steer onto the right road.”

If Republicans had their way, Sessions suggested, the 2012 budget would not merely impose painful spending cuts, but would be fashioned to remove impediments to economic growth. “Our goal is not an era of austerity but an era of prosperity,” Sessions said.

He replaced Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire as the top Republican on the committee. Gregg retired.