Senator-elect Heidi Heitkamp has a column in today’s newspapers laying out her “priorities” for when she begins service in Congress. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what she says are her priorities, and how things are already shaping up out in Washington DC.
For instance, Heitkamp is promising to reach across the aisle to Republicans:
During my time as attorney general in North Dakota, crossing the aisle to get something done wasn’t a luxury but a way of life. Today the issues are different, but the need to work with both sides remains.
So how will Heitkamp accomplish this goal of reaching across the aisle? Well, it appears as though one of her first votes as a Senator may be to make good on a promise she made to other liberal Democrats to help gut the filibuster.
I guess removing the Senate’s protections for the minority party so that the majority party can steamroll them is Heitkamp’s idea of working together.
Next, Heitkamp says that her “No. 1 job is to see a farm bill finally passed and signed into law.” But later in her column she also says that the budget is a priority:
Finally, it’s clear that we can’t continue on the same path when it comes to the federal budget. Twelve years ago, former President Bill Clinton put us on course to retire the nation’s debt by 2013. But since he left office, the federal government has accumulated a debt of more than $16 trillion.
Under the control of Heitkamp’s North Dakota colleague Kent Conrad, the Senate Budget Committee hasn’t passed a budget since fiscal year 2009. The incoming Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Patty Murray has already said that Democrats in the Senate aren’t interested in passing a budget for next year either. But Heitkamp’s #1 concern is the farm bill?
How can we have a farm bill without a budget? And when will Heitkamp, who has vowed to stand up to her own party, lambaste her party for abandoning the budget process entirely? Not any time soon, I expect. Those words about standing up to her party are just that. Words spoken on the campaign trail by a candidate desperate to be elected.
Finally, Heitkamp is also positioning herself as a fiscal hawk much like her predecessor Kent Conrad. But also like Conrad, it’s pretty clear she shouldn’t be taken seriously. Heitkamp wants to balance the budget without touching the biggest budget problems, which are entitlements:
I’m focused on a balanced approach that will allow us to honor the promises we made to seniors who rely on Social Security and Medicare and continue to make investments in education, our infrastructure and technological innovation. That means working with both sides to cut spending, but also asking those who make more than $1 million a year —in North Dakota, that’s no more than 645 taxpayers — to help reduce the deficit.
So Heitkamp is for tax hikes, and spending cuts, but not to the biggest problem areas. In fiscal year 2011 Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the interest on the national debt and other “mandatory” federal spending totaled 62% of the budget. The remaining 38% of the budget, totaling roughly $1.346 trillion in spending including military and all discretionary budget items, would have to be almost entirely wiped out to close last year’s $1.114 trillion budget deficit.
Heitkamp, then, isn’t serious about deficit reduction. And that’s not based on some ideologically-driven analysis of her positions. It’s math.
But then, why should we take Heitkamp’s promises seriously? She said what she had to say to North Dakotans to get elected so that she could be a consistent, loyal vote for the liberal Democrats that run the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will get a good return on the millions he invested into electing Heitkamp.