Sen. Kent Conrad has been the Democrats’ balanced-budget guy for more than a decade, and the job takes a toll. His wife paints the North Dakotan as a lonely Cassandra with Power Point slides, warning of a debt-ridden future liberals and conservatives alike would rather ignore.
The past two years have been especially stressful. Conrad almost single-handedly forced President Obama to create the commission known as Bowles-Simpson, which produced a debt-reduction plan now hailed as a model of bipartisan compromise on taxes and government spending. Conrad then spent months working with like-minded senators to build support for the plan and bring it to a vote.
His efforts failed — and annoyed party leaders. White House officials say Conrad inadvertently muddied their own budding budget deal with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — worried, Democrats said, that Conrad was too eager for an agreement with Republicans — excluded him from last-ditch talks undertaken by a specially-created “supercommittee” last fall.