Sen. Kent Conrad (D., N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, graduate of the Bowles-Simpson commission on deficit reduction and member of the “Gang of Six,” has been conspicuously absent from the recent budget debate recently (other than to announce his disdain for Paul Ryan’s plan).
However, Conrad did “surface” long enough to sit down with ABC’s Jon Karl in the bowels of the Senate for a “Subway Series” interview (video here). He said it was imperative that Congress agree on a meaningful deficit-reduction package this year.
“My hopes are for the country’s sake that we do [find a solution to] this because it’s critically important,” Conrad said. “[We] are on the precipice of very serious consequences if we don’t. And if it doesn’t happen this year, it’s certainly not going to happen next year. So it’s really got to happen now.”
However, when asked if the Gang of Six would eventually produce a plan, Conrad balked. “Can’t say for certain because we have a rule: Nothing’s decided until it is,” he said, though he added: “I wouldn’t have spent hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours of my time if I didn’t think there was a realistic prospect.”
Conrad said the Gang, which includes Sens. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), Mark Warner (D., Va.), Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.), Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), and Mike Crapo (R., Idaho), was hoping to put forward a plan that would reduce the national deficit by about $4 trillion over 10 years, the same goal outlined by the Bowles-Simpson commission. Paul Ryan’s plan would reduce the deficit by $4.4 trillion over the same period, while President Obama’s “plan,” aims to cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years (only $2.5 trillion of that in the first 10).
Conrad told Karl he had never heard of a 12-year plan, and didn’t seem particularly impressed by it. “I really don’t know the motivation. One thing I’ve learned around here is I don’t know people’s motivations. I just try to pay attention to what they do. And 12 years, it’s an interesting concept,” he said. As to the so-called “Biden commission” that the president touted in his speech at George Washington University last week, Conrad said he was “unclear” about the goals and purpose of this new commission.
When Conrad announced his retirement earlier this year, he said that not have to run for reelection would give him greater flexibility when it comes to tackling the deficit. Now, with the 2012 campaign season getting into full swing, he maintains a grim optimism that a bipartisan deal is possible before it’s too late:
“I certainly hope this leads to a result because otherwise I’m going to have wasted five years of my life,” he said.