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OUR OPINION: Conrad wins credit for tough calls

In the past few days, North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad made three tough decisions that affirmed his position as one of the Senate's key moderates. Conrad deserves credit for each. First, by making them, he showed a North Dakota sensibility -- one th...

In the past few days, North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad made three tough decisions that affirmed his position as one of the Senate's key moderates.

Conrad deserves credit for each. First, by making them, he showed a North Dakota sensibility -- one that put him at odds with not only the Democratic party's liberal wing, but also (to a lesser degree) the Obama White House.

Both of those groups now are exerting tremendous pressure on Conrad. It takes courage to stand up to that kind of crush.

Second, Conrad's centrism is sure to serve the country well. Take the senator's first decision: to insist on a health care reform package that wins at least 60, not just 50, Senate votes.

In the modern Senate, important laws need at least 60 votes to pass because of the filibuster, the minority party's ability to kill legislation. The rule makes the majority party chafe, but it ensures broad and bipartisan support for major pieces of legislation.

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Earlier this year, Conrad had helped open health care reform to "reconciliation," a Senate process for bypassing the filibuster. But more recently, he's recognized that winning a simple majority on health care reform just isn't enough: We're in a "60 vote environment," Conrad told the Washington Post, "because I believe reconciliation simply won't work."

With those words, Conrad greatly raised the odds that health care reform will pass with broad rather than narrow support.

Speaking of reform, Conrad's second decision crafted a key reform compromise. His plan now is a hot topic in Washington and is under attack from both the right and left.

That's a badge of honor in middle America and a sign that the plan may be on the right track.

The Obama administration and many Democrats want a "public plan," a government-run insurance plan that could compete with traditional insurance companies. But Republicans and some Democrats disagree, saying such a plan would drive private insurers out of business. That would leave Americans with a "single payer" government plan like Canada's.

Enter the Conrad compromise: "a system of federally-chartered co-ops that could offer a non-profit alternative to the for-profit insurance industry," as the Washington Post described it.

The compromise arose, in part, because "we're so used to cooperative structures in my state," Conrad told the Post.

"They were begun by progressives, they came out of the progressive era. And they're so successful in our state.

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"So I can't really say we came up with some brand new idea. We just thought about our own experience."

Conrad's third decision may trump both of the above. That's because to the Obama administration's likely dismay, Conrad is pointing out that while under current projections, a new health care entitlement would help make government borrowing absolutely explode.

"The second five years (of the budget projection) is where we're on a completely unsustainable course," he told the Post.

"People know we have an overall situation here that doesn't add up."

America wants health care reform, but it needs fiscal responsibility first. Conrad, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, deserves credit for sticking to his guns and pointing out that inconvenient truth.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

Related Topics: HEALTHCARE
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