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Rich Lowry: Sen. Kent Conrad the scrivener

BY RICH LOWRY Published: April 24, 2012

Conrad argued that the debt ceiling compromise earlier this year obviated any need to pass a budget resolution. Then what explains the AWOL Senate budgets of 2010 and 2011?

The debt deal set some broad spending levels for the next two years in the discretionary part of the budget, but it is silent on revenues, entitlements and other mandatory spending. It also has a blunderbuss sequester provision that everyone wants to avoid. If the budget deal really were a substitute for a budget resolution, Paul Ryan wouldn't have bothered to come up with another one this year, and House Democrats wouldn't have countered with resolutions of their own.

Extraordinary capstone

The 1974 Budget Act says that, as a matter of law, the Senate Budget Committee is to pass a resolution by April 1 and Congress as a whole to pass one by April 15. No matter. Kent Conrad is the Bartleby the Scrivener of budgeting: He prefers not to.

The chairman's exertions, such as they are, serve the political interests of his master, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The leader doesn't want the fingerprints of Senate Democrats on a budget. What possible upside is there in telling the public, in some detail, how they will address the country's grave fiscal challenges? This gambit, a running charade for years now, betrays the intellectual exhaustion of the last remaining Democratic majority on Capitol Hill — too scared and too cynical to undertake even a rudimentary gesture toward governing.

As for Sen. Kent Conrad, he is retiring at the end of the year. As a private citizen, he will be able to look back fondly at the extraordinary capstone of his 25-year career during this period, when he literally set a new standard for success for chairmen of the Senate Budget Committee. Bravo, Mr. Chairman, bravo.



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