OUR OPINION: Conrad should stay as Budget Committee chairmanSen. Kent Conrad should keep his job as Budget Committee chairman rather than give it up for the Agriculture chairmanship.
By: Tom Dennis for the Herald , Grand Forks Herald
Maybe the senator was just floating a trial balloon. If so, here’s another dart aimed at popping it:
Sen. Kent Conrad should keep his job as Budget Committee chairman rather than give it up for the Agriculture chairmanship.
Why? Because while Conrad at Agriculture could craft a short-term boost for North Dakota, Conrad at Budget could help build the foundation for long-term prosperity — for not only North Dakota but also the entire U.S.
Today, the political stars have aligned to give Washington lawmakers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to solve the budget crisis facing the U.S. government.
Conrad was born to play a central role in that budget process. He holds an MBA, not a law degree. He’s s a former North Dakota tax commissioner. He’s immersed himself in budget work during his Senate career and has spoken up about the depth and gravity of the budget crisis.
And crucially important, Conrad’s skill in this arcane but vital work is respected on both sides of the aisle.
With the Democrats keeping their Senate majority, it’s vital for the budget committee chairman to understand and share core Republican concerns — specifically, the need to cut spending.
That’s because the only way a budget fix will last is if it commands bipartisan support. Putting Social Security and Medicare on sound footings — read, “raising taxes and cutting benefits” — won’t get done on a 51-49 vote. Such reforms need a filibuster-proof majority and then some, because that’s the only way senators can be sure their controversial votes won’t be reversed after the next election.
No other senator has Conrad’s credibility in that regard.
Consider: At a dinner Tuesday, the Concord Coalition will present its Paul E. Tsongas Economic Patriot Award. The Concord Coalition is an honored nonprofit entirely dedicated to balancing the budget. Its founding president will be at the head table Tuesday. He is Peter Peterson, and his own Peterson Foundation also is committed to solving America’s fiscal challenge.
At that table, as well, will be David Walker, former comptroller general of the U.S. He has spent the past several years sounding the alarm about America’s exploding and unsustainable debt.
The Tsongas Award “honors those who have demonstrated a commitment to fiscal and generational responsibility,” the Concord Coalition’s website notes.
This year’s recipient: Kent Conrad.
As for building bipartisan coalitions, Conrad helped draft and negotiate the current farm bill. It won 82 Senate votes — more than enough to override not only President George W. Bush’s veto but also vocal critics on the left.
And speaking of the farm bill: Conrad, as mentioned, played a central role in its passage in 2008. He did so even as he kept his Budget Committee chairmanship.
He probably could do so again. In other words, on the Agriculture Committee, persuasiveness was enough. Conrad didn’t need the chairman’s gavel to be effective.
But the budget battles are going to be hard-fought. Remember, the solution almost certainly is going to demand raising taxes and as well as cutting defense programs and entitlements. Those are red capes in front of Congress’ partisan bulls, and Conrad will need power as well as persuasiveness to get the job done.
National debts are a worldwide problem. In Europe, they’ve led to unprecedented austerity measures. In the U.S., they’ve drawn intense concern, helping Republicans regain a House majority and pushing President Barack Obama (at Conrad’s urging) to appoint a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission.
But the sheer breadth of the worries means the parties at last may find common ground. “I think in the end, that reality will force accommodations,” as David Broder writes in a new column.
“And when it does, there will be genuine reason for celebration.” America needs Conrad to stay on as Budget Committee chairma because his leadership greatly boosts the odds of the nation celebrating that day.