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Conrad Newly Free to Negotiate Budget Deal

As Budget chairman, Conrad takes the lead in writing the Senate budget resolution and has pledged to work with his GOP counterpart, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.), to try to forge a deal. He will have to fight off liberals in his own party as well as conservatives to reach a consensus. Conrad’s support for trimming the cost of Social Security and Medicare and raising the retirement age have raised the hackles of some in his own party, and the commission proposal for a net tax increase has come under fire from Ryan and other conservatives.

Sen. Patty Murray is next in seniority on the Budget panel, but her office didn’t return an e-mail for comment on whether she would be interested in the chairmanship. The Washington Democrat also serves as Conference secretary and chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, could see a short-term benefit from Conrad’s decision to retire, even though it makes the Senate more likely to be in Republican hands two years hence: They’ll have one less vulnerable Member to protect on tough votes.

Republican aides have been eyeing the 23 Democratic seats up in 2012, including Conrad’s, as potential sources of Republican legislative victories in the next two years as they try to advance House GOP bills, noting that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said as much two weeks ago.

“How many of the 23 Democrats who are up in ’12 are going to be more interested in cooperating with us in trying to advance an agenda that’s going to come out of the House of Representatives that we think is going to be largely favored by the American people?” McConnell said.

Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.

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