Sen. Conrad’s Budget Could Be Secret Weapon In Debt Debate

Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad is to outline a deficit-reduction plan that could further pressure recalcitrant Republicans.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad on Wednesday will brief Democratic leaders on a budget plan that would significantly raise government tax revenues in order to reduce the federal budget deficit.

Conrad’s proposal could be a powerful new weapon in the ongoing debate to push Republicans to allow a needed vote to raise the government’s debt limit, given the fact that he apparently has locked up support for the plan from all of the Democrat-aligned senators on the budget panel.

Conrad (D-N.D.) previewed his proposal last week in an interview on MSNBC, saying his plan would contain more deficit reduction than President Obama’s own bipartisan deficit-reduction commission and the House Republican plan, all while holding the support of all Budget Committee Democrats.

“So I think it‘s very significant. I hope very much it will help influence the debate and the discussion among the leadership,” Conrad says.

With liberals like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on the same page as moderates like Conrad, and fellow Budget members like Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Warner of Virginia, such unity could ramp up pressure on recalcitrant Republicans who have taken hard line positions relative to federal spending by demanding trillions of dollars of federal budget cuts to a wide swath of programs.

That a liberal like Sanders supports the Conrad budget is significant.

Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats, praised Conrad’s budget blueprint but declined to comment on any of its details ahead of its official release. “I am very comfortable with his budget,” Sanders told The Hill, a congressional newspaper.

Sanders has been a leading critic of any attempt by Republicans, or Democrats, to reduce the deficit on the backs of low-income and middle class Americans. Rather, he has been calling for shared sacrifice such that the wealthiest taxpayers also give something significant toward the effort.

Sanders has been urging Obama not to cave in on Republican demands to cut federal spending while shielding the richest Americans from those cuts.

Credibility for the Conrad plan on the left could provide Democrats a united front to further box in the GOP and pressure congressional Republicans to give concessions to allow a debt-limit vote by the July 22 deadline set by the White House. That deadline is needed to allow time to pass legislation ahead of the Aug. 2 date by which the federal government is expected to begin to default on its bills.

Such a default has been widely termed as causing catastrophe for the sluggish U.S. and world economies. If the government for the first time couldn’t pay its bills, experts say it would further slow economic growth and cost more than 600,000 Americans their jobs.

Up until now, Republicans have been so intransigent as to raise the public ire of conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks.

In a piece published Tuesday, Brooks concludes, “If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

“And they will be right.”


Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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