Rich Lowry: Sen. Kent Conrad the scrivener
Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. That means he's the Democratic point man for the absolutely essential work of not coming up with a budget.
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Conrad has occasionally gone wobbly. Sometimes he has sounded dangerously close to betraying the cause that his party has entrusted to him. A couple of weeks ago, the senator went on national TV to say he was going to have his committee “mark up” what he called a “10-year plan” — i.e., a budget. After briefly flirting with this treachery, Conrad came back to his senses and recommitted himself to his duty to remain resolutely budget-less.
He didn't hold a markup at all, which is the time-honored process by which a bill is debated, amended and voted on. Conrad dispensed with all such fluff and minutiae. He offered his own plan, loosely based on the work of the Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction commission, shot down any foolishness about amending or voting, and pronounced himself well-pleased. Despite the angst he had caused with his loose talk, Conrad had delivered yet again — by not delivering a budget.
If this seems an easy, almost no-show job to you, think again. There are two varieties of budgetary boldness. There's bold like Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. This involves passing out of committee detailed budget resolutions that go on to pass the entire chamber and to spark a full and frank debate about the nation's fiscal future. Then there's Kent Conrad boldness. This involves having the fortitude to defend doing nothing with threadbare rationalizations and weaselly misdirections.
Fresh from his stalwart act of nonbudgeting, Conrad said it was too hard to pass a budget in an election year. But Senate Democrats hadn't passed one in 2011 or 2010, either. This year is a presidential election year, 2011 was an off-year, and 2010 was a midterm election year. That covers every kind of year there is in Washington. By this standard, the Senate will have an annual excuse not to pass a budget resolution for the rest of time.
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