“By the way, Harry Reid crushed the Democratic budget chairman, a good man, a fiscal hawk. And there are good, fiscal hawks – Kent Conrad – there are Democrats acting so responsibly.”
In Washington – a land of mythical accounting and empty rhetoric – such a claim seems perfectly reasonable. In the real world – outside of Washington political circles and the New York media circus – it is absurd.
By now, most Americans are well aware the Senate has not adopted a budget in more than 1,100 days. For families and businesses, budgets are not mere procedural mechanisms, but rather statements of priorities. As budget chairman, Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) is not only responsible for plugging numbers into a spreadsheet, he sets governing priorities.
But rather than using his post to craft his party’s agenda, Senator Conrad kowtowed to the demands of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who appears unwilling – perhaps even afraid – to reveal his party’s priorities to the American people, who would use the budget to hold their lawmakers accountable.
Now, take this dynamic outside of Washington into the private sector.
Imagine a fledging car company hires a new chief executive who is tasked with not only presenting a plan to turn the company around, but building support for the plan among key players in the company and then implementing the plan. The man is respected by his peers, and is known to talk a good game. He’s smart, knows how to work the media circuit and is seen among industry analysts as the guy who is capable of bringing everyone together. But several years later, the company is still struggling and his influence has been marginalized.
What would happen in the real world? The executive would be booted out by the company's board and ridiculed by the media for his compensation package.
This composite executive is, of course, Kent Conrad.
Now, compare this to an executive who has all the same qualities, but is also a leader capable of rallying his company's stakeholders around his plan and thus begin the process of implementing real change and turning around the company. This executive would be touted as a turnaround expert who can hold any position he desires.
This composite executive is, arguably, Paul Ryan.
Why the comparison? Both men chair their respective budget committees – Senate and House – and are seen as fiscal leaders of their respective political parties – Democrat and Republican.
The distinction between chairmen Conrad and Ryan is painfully obvious to anyone outside Washington: results. Whether you agree with the Ryan Budget or not, there is absolutely no argument he has reshaped the GOP agenda. It is not just numbers on a page, but rather a sweeping set of priorities that are now widely accepted within the party.
And to be clear, this is not an inherently partisan issue. Over in the House, Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) presented a budget that garnered significant Democrat support. If Democrats retake the House, Van Hollen would himself become budget chairman.
Nor is it a problem with the Senate. First-term Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) all offered comprehensive budget plans. The Heritage-inspired Lee Budget covered everything from comprehensive tax reform and an overhaul of the regulatory apparatus to real entitlement reform and the repeal of Obamacare. That a freshman Senator, who is a constitutional lawyer by trade, would have the audacity to propose a budget that leaves no aspect of the federal government untouched, is to be commended.
It should also put Senator Conrad to shame.
Last week, he told MSNBC that he still believes in the Simpson-Bowles commission, which he “presented to the Senate Budget Committee. They didn't vote on it because I know if we vote on it right now it will go down.” It will go down? Democrats control the committee and control the Senate, where a simple majority is needed to pass a budget.
Our country is on the verge of going down, and unless you are a mindless political pundit, there is no denying that Senator Conrad's tenure as budget chairman is an unmitigated disaster; in fact, he is the worst chairman in the committee’s history. Talking is not leading, and it is time the pundit class learned that lesson and began directing their praise to those who are willing to lead.