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Most Members will tell staff what they need and leave it to them to do the real work. Not Conrad. He sits through the negotiations. Its almost as if he does staff work in addition to a Members work. He always has paper. He has information. He knows his stuff. And when the doors close, he cuts the deal, said the staffer.
The question, of course, is whether everyone will like the deal.
Republicans, in particular, were quick to criticize Conrads version of the budget last week.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Obamas budget spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much the newest Republican refrain. But he also slammed Conrad when he complained that given all the bipartisan praise that budget transparency received ... the Budget Committee voted to put most of the gimmicks and tricks back in.
Conrads disagreement with the Obama budgets bottom line doesnt necessarily mean that the North Dakotan disagrees with what Obama wants to accomplish. He has only suggested that he is unhappy with the cost of some of the pieces of President Obamas agenda.
However, Conrad has indicated that he isnt ready to throw out procedural niceties, such as the filibuster, to accomplish big changes.
Given the presidents emphasis on bipartisan cooperation and changing the tone in Washington, D.C., as well as the likelihood that Republicans would go nuclear if Senate Democrats tried to use reconciliation to pass cap-and-trade legislation or even fundamental health care reform, Conrad could find himself facing off against his own partys Senate leadership.
Serious and studious, Conrad doesnt possess Barack Obamas charisma or bully pulpit. But because of his reputation and skill as a negotiator, the North Dakota Democrat definitely is a man to watch in the coming months.
Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.