Conrad soldiers on in budget battle

It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

Conrad had been promising a vote this week on a budget bill for 2013. A budget bill hasn’t been passed in the Senate for three years. Instead, Conrad canceled the vote in the budget committee Wednesday, saying the time wasn’t right for it.

For the record, Republicans who have controlled the House the past two years have produced budgets each year, although they knew their proposals were unlikely to win support in the Democratically controlled Senate.

According to a variety of news sources and GOP leaders, Conrad was pressured into cancelling this week’s vote by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The fear by Democratic leaders, apparently, is that such a vote might put Democratic senators standing for re-election this year in a difficult position on the campaign trail. Also, the vote might be an embarrassment for President Barack Obama, since the budget Conrad planned to offer was far different than what the president has proposed.

This has to be tough on Conrad, who has made sincere efforts to reach budget compromise with Republicans.

Conrad drew praise from House Republican budget chief Paul Ryan last year for his efforts during negotiations to forge a temporary budget plan. And he served as a member of the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission appointed by Obama in 2010.

In fact, it is the Simpson-Bowles plan — or a slightly revised version of it — that Conrad said he how hopes to push as both a budget and deficit reduction plan. But not until after the November election.

Conrad said he plans to introduce his updated version of Simpson-Bowles in the Senate Budget Committee this week, but he won’t hold a vote on it now.

Instead, he hopes to begin the discussion on the bipartisan deficit-reduction plan that never received a vote in Congress when it was released in late 2010. Nor did it receive any support from Obama.

Conrad told The Washington Post Wednesday that he has heard from both Democratic and Republican colleagues, who have told him they support his efforts, but don’t feel comfortable taking a position until after the election.

That echoes what one of the deficit plan’s authors, former Sen. Alan Simpson, as well as Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, told us when they each visited Grand Junction recently. Once the election is over and new budget cuts are looming on Jan. 1, there will be increasing pressure on members of both parties to compromise, they said.

We hope they are right. As we have repeatedly argued, addressing the nation’s growing debt is critical to our long-term economic viability and to maintaining needed government programs.

We applaud Conrad for his willingness to push the issue, even if his party leadership forced him to delay that effort.


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