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As he pushes to pass his spending blueprint this week, Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) is having a tough time balancing his core principles against the pressure of delivering for a popular Democratic president.
Though Conrad is no stranger to writing budget resolutions he did it for the past two years under a George W. Bush White House this is the first time in his career that hes also been in charge of helping shepherd through the Senate an ambitious Democratic agenda that actually has a chance of being enacted. And so far, the raised stakes have clearly put the longtime deficit hawk in an uncomfortable position.
Hes got the consistency of his principles ... but whats different is hes got a Democratic president, one senior Senate Democratic aide said.
Conrads strong belief in deficit and debt reduction has made him perhaps the most vocal and public face of Democratic dissent over President Barack Obamas budget plan. And the chairman has come under fire from some in his own party for slashing spending and refusing to use fast-track budget maneuvers to protect the presidents top priorities health care reform, global warming legislation and boosts in education funding.
At the same time, the four-term Senator seems almost resigned to the fact that he might get rolled on those issues once his budget meets up with a House-passed budget in an upcoming bicameral conference committee.
You know Ive got an obligation that the critics dont have. Ive got an obligation to get something passed, and so I have to listen to everybody, Conrad said Tuesday. I have to listen to those who want more spending, I have to listen to those who want less, and I have to try to be sufficiently aware that I can actually produce something that can pass. And I think Ive done that.
Belying his stature as Budget chairman, however, Conrad seemed to suggest one day earlier that the White House, along with House and Senate Democratic leaders, would be the ultimate decision-makers when it comes to the final 2010 budget plan.
I dont control the outcome of the conference. You know? Im a participant, but I dont control the outcome, Conrad told reporters.
But he warned on Tuesday that, People want to change things, and I said yesterday, they change them at their peril because that may create a resolution that cannot pass.
A longtime critic of the Bush administrations use of budget gimmickry, Conrads difficulties in writing a budget that actually matters were compounded last month when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office whose projections Congress uses to write spending outlines came out with a markedly different outlook for the countrys fiscal health than did Obamas Office of Management and Budget. The CBO predicted that the Obama budget was off by a whopping $2.3 trillion in its deficit estimates.
Kents put in a very bad position of trying to reconcile an economy thats continuing to go down but yet keep the presidents priorities. And I think hes done that, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said.