It remains to be seen whether Conrad’s truancy, and the uptick in partisan rhetoric — perhaps best embodied by President Obama’s speech at George Washington University last week, in which he basically told Paul Ryan to his face that his budget was a fundamentally un-American document — is a sign that the two sides are hopelessly divided or is merely a final posturing in the run-up to fruitful negotiations.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), a GOP member of the Gang of Six along with Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.) and Mike Crapo (R., Idaho), remains optimistic. “Two years from now, will we look back and say did we make the hard choices, regardless of what Kent Conrad said at one moment on a budget plan by Paul Ryan?” he asked radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview. But Coburn warned that an agreement is “not a sure thing” and said he stands ready to introduce his own proposal in the event that talks break down. “Send me some senators who have some gonads” — i.e., who aren’t afraid to lose their jobs — he added.
For Conrad, that’s one thing he no longer has worry about. The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for a certain member of his party, who has just launched what is likely to be a $1 billion reelection campaign. As someone who has always maintained that White House involvement would be essential to any bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction, Conrad ought to have severe misgivings at this point as to the level of “involvement” that the president’s campaign advisers are willing to subject him to, beyond the occasional smug lecture.
Given the circumstances, perhaps Senator Conrad should revisit his own words from a speech he gave at a “Moment of Truth” press conference to announce the re-launching of the Bowles-Simpson deficit plan: “History is going to judge whether we have the courage, character, and the vision to stand up for America’s future. Those who take a walk, those who turn away, those who don’t have the gumption to stand up, are going to be judged very, very harshly.”
— Andrew Stiles is a 2011 Franklin Fellow with National Review Online.