FARGO – With a little more than 11 months until his retirement, North Dakota Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad has a busy to-do list he wants to tackle before leaving Capitol Hill.
Conrad discussed his top priorities in a meeting on Tuesday with The Forum’s editorial board.
- Fix the nation’s fiscal problems.
- Promote energy independence through new national policy.
- Negotiate and pass the 2012 farm bill.
- Fund North Dakota flood protection and recovery efforts.
Conrad, who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has spent five years spearheading various solutions to address the country’s escalating debt and deficit, a priority he acknowledged is still his biggest challenge.
He said he’s determined to find consensus in 2012 through a renewed ef-fort among a bipartisan group of senators.
“We have to get our economic house in order,” Conrad said. “It’s hugely important to our country.”
Conrad was a member of the so-called “Gang of Six,” whose proposed solutions, like similar ones in recent months, were dead-on-arrival in the face of a highly partisan and deadlocked Congress.
He said the gang has expanded this year to eight members, and he hopes the discussions can lead to a long-term plan Congress will pass.
Conrad said the group is working to draft legislation that would reduce the debt by $4 trillion over 10 years. The package incorporates recommendations offered a year ago by the president’s bipartisan fiscal commission, of which Conrad was also a member.
“There is so much denial on the left and on the right,” Conrad said. “The greatest impediment to getting done what needs to get done is public opinion. … When you get up and say what’s actually happening, it’s not really popular.”
Conrad said no singular solution will be enough to overcome the nation’s fiscal challenges – the biggest being a $15 trillion debt that matches the nation’s annual gross domestic product.
Conrad proposes a solution that mandates both increased revenues and spending cuts in order to bridge the gap and eliminate the debt over time.
“Those who say you don’t have to touch revenue are detached from reality,” he said. The increased revenues must include reform to the country’s tax code, but it could also potentially mean tax increases for the wealthiest Americans, he said.
Conrad said he is negotiating a farm bill this year that he hopes will be beneficial to North Dakota growers.
The current bill expires at the end of this year. He said crop insurance is one of the key areas of importance for farmers.
Conrad said he’s also working with his colleagues to craft a national energy policy that will reduce America’s dependence on undependable and insecure nations.
He repeated his support for the Keystone XL pipeline, a controversial project that plans to usher oil from Canada’s tar sands to American refineries.
Conrad also pledged to continue fighting for funding for the Red River diversion project in Fargo-Moorhead and for the Devils Lake outlets.
He said he wants to ensure recovery dollars also go to flood-stricken communities along the Souris and Missouri rivers, including Bismarck, Mandan and Minot.