Senator Kent Conrad gave his farewell address to the Senate today (I’ll post video when it’s available, for now here’s a Grand Forks Herald report), which means that the eulogizing of his career by the North Dakota media will no doubt commence soon.
They’ll need buckets of white wash, though I’m sure they’re prepared. If there’s one thing Conrad could always count on, it was the deference of the North Dakota media.
Conrad was first elected to the US Senate in 1986 with a campaign in which he promised to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. Conrad was the self-proclaimed “deficit hawk” or “budget hawk” of the US Senate. The national debt at the time was $2.120 trillion in 1986 dollars ($3.052 trillion adjusted for inflation). He is leaving the Senate, 26 years later, with the national debt at over $16.3 trillion, a 672% increase. Conrad is ending his career having helped elect the President who has presided over the fastest accumulation of national debt in the nation’s history. Conrad was the first Senate Democrat to endorse candidate Obama during the Democrat primary process in 2007. After being elected in 2008, Obama was the first US President to take the nation over a $1 trillion annual budget deficit, an ignominious feat the nation has repeated every year since with Conrad’s aid and abetment.
As chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Conrad hasn’t passed produced a budget since 2009. He could have produced a budget, but despite his claims of independence and moderation, when his party bosses told him not to bring a budget out of committee he obeyed like the loyal partisan soldier he’s always been. Even at the end of his career, when he needn’t have worried about getting elected again, Conrad put the interests of his party over the interests of the nation.
Conrad has long received glowing praise from the North Dakota media for his importance in national fiscal matters. In 2010, in an editorial asking that Conrad remain as head of the Senate Budget Committee, the Grand Forks Herald said the nation needed Conrad’s leadership on national fiscal matters. “No other senator has Conrad’s credibility in that regard,” they wrote.
And yet, by Conrad’s own admission and despite being in the media talking about it endlessly, he’s ending his career “not in the room” for some of the most dire and serious fiscal negotiations this country has ever seen. Which just proves that Conrad’s “leadership” on fiscal issues has always been a charade, perpetrated to both placate Conrad’s red-state constituency and give his party political cover on fiscal issues.
Conrad was the Democrats’ fiscal issue front man.
Conrad has never been a leader in the US Senate. Not on the most important issues. Certainly not on fiscal issues. Keep in mind that twice in his career in the Senate, Conrad had the opportunity to require by constitutional law something he’s always claimed to want, a balanced budget. In both 1995 and 1997 Conrad could have been the deciding factor in creating a balanced budget amendment (something his liberal replacement, Senator-elect Heidi Heitkamp also claims to want), but he never gave his support.
In 1995 Republicans were pushing for a balanced budget amendment. Coming down to the wire, they needed just one more vote to make it a go in the US Senate. Kent Conrad “was at the center of the last-ditch negotiations” according to a news report at the time, but ultimately Republicans couldn’t win him over. “I don’t see any prospect for a meeting of minds,” said Conrad after his last meeting with Republicans on the matter.
The amendment never even went to a vote.
In 1997, Republicans were again on the verge of passing a balanced budget amendment. It went to a vote in the Senate on March 4th, 1997. As it was a constitutional amendment, it needed 67 votes to pass. Republicans got 66 votes, with Kent Conrad voting “nay.”
And it’s not just Conrad’s dishonesty and hypocrisy on fiscal matters which makes his career a disgrace. Keep in mind that what kept Conrad from running for a second term was his involvement in the VIP loan scandal which saw Countrywide Financial using mortgage discounts to bribe members of Congress and federal officials into providing hundreds of billions of dollars worth of bailouts for subprime loans. Conrad got mortgage discounts both for the building housing the sham apartment he kept here in North Dakota as his “official residence” (a place he never actually lived) and his $3.1 million Delaware beach house. In exchange, Conrad used his control of the Senate Budget Committee to clear the way for bailout legislation.
That nasty bit of corruption was the cherry on top of sad career of duplicity and squandered opportunity.
So good riddance to Kent Conrad. The nation will be governed better thanks to his absence from the Senate.