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Budget committee hearing revealing
of muddled approach to jobs recovery


Budget hawk: Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Budget Committee. / AP

A Senate Budget Committee hearing held Thursday, Jan. 26, provides insight into Democrats’ regrettable two-steps-forward, one-step-back approach to getting the economy growing in ways that will put our more than 14 million unemployed back to work.

Hearings are set up by committee chairpersons, in this case Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., a career-long budget hawk with a strong penchant for uttering the word “unsustainable” and phrase “entitlement reform” in alternatively ominous and frustrated tones.

Committee chairpersons usually invite witnesses who will provide a range of views, conservative to progressive, when answering senators’ questions on matters as weighty as Thursday’s, titled “Outlook for U.S. and Global Economy.”

However, Conrad arranged for input from two relatively moderate and one hard-core conservative economists. They were: Dr. Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton economics professor and Dr. Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisors, the moderates; and Dr. Ike Brannon, American Action Forum director of economic policy.

In the mid-1990’s, Blinder was Federal Reserve Board vice chairman, until he reportedly got on the wrong side of then-Chairman Alan Greenspan and his people for offering views that differed from Greenspan and his people’s. Prakken heads a macroeconomic consulting firm, does speaking engagements ($20,000-$30,000 each), has taught economics and headed the National Association for Business Economics.

Brannon is the director of economic policy and of congressional relations for the American Action Forum — a Karl Rove front group. Here’s a snippet out of a Think Progress Jan. 11, 2011, item:

– Ken Langone, an investment banker and founder of Home Depot, is attending the Koch meeting this weekend. Langone helped found the new Karl Rove network of front groups known as American Action Network, American Action Forum, and American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS, which together delivered an unprecedented wave of attack ads against Democrats last year. Langone and his fundraiser, Fred Malek, attended previous Koch meetings.

Of Robert Reichs, Joe Steiglitzes or Paul Krugmans we had none.


Ike Brannon: Pushing Rovian line on entitlement reform and fiscal austerity.

We admit this next observation is subjective on our part, but you can watch video of the hearing and see what you think. What we noticed was Brannon going on about reining in the budget . . . yada, yada, entitlement reform . . . . yada yada. And there was Conrad, nodding his head in agreement and appearing more engaged and receptive whenever Brannon spoke.

Conrad is a senior senator, highly regarded as a very smart, very serious guy and topnotch budget expert. He has a lot of clout.

Looking back on some of the things President Obama has done and not done over the past three years, some of the things he put on the table and left off the table, we get a strong sense of budget hawk Conrad’s influence at work.

Conrad will leave the Senate at the end of the year. We acknowledge his years of public service. We credit Conrad with being earnest to a fault in his belief that, aside from a terrorist attack, the worst thing that could happen to America is for our financial and budget woes to not get straightened out, the sooner the better.

We agree that our budget and other financial problems need fixing. Where we part company with Conrad, and with the way President Obama wasted the period December 2010 to July 2011, is that first things should come first. That means getting the economy growing and Americans back to work, so we can afford to fix the budget deficit. Putting the cart before the horse just retards the jobs recovery, which Conrad and Obama are both smart enough to know.

We regret that Conrad’s Senate seat will almost certainly be taken over by a Republican. But in a way, we’re not sorry to see him go.



  1. Jolly Roger says:

    I won’t lose much sleep over Conrad being gone. He’s not quite as bad as Nelson, but he’s close enough.

  2. Octopus says:

    Gee, what ever happened to Clinton’s “Grow the Economy” as a means of bringing in more tax revenue and balancing the budget? There is something about “framing” that gets the priorities right, and something about the Democrats that truly suck at framing the right message.

  3. Tom Harper says:

    Kent Conrad is the kind of “Democrat” that causes millions of people to say “there’s no difference between the two parties.”

  4. Dave Dubya says:

    Too bad half of the Democratic Party could be called Republicrats.

  5. S.W. Anderson says:

    J.R., Tom and Dave, the reality seems worse now because Democrats still have a big-tent party, formerly a strength, whereas Republicans are divided into hard-right conservatives and tea party extremists. The reality is also that if the Democratic Party rejects out of hand those who aren’t strongly progressive on all issues, it’s likely to be unable to win the House or Senate much of the time, and will go on electing fewer presidents. Dems need to change hearts and minds in the hinterland.

    Octopus, “grow the economy” is at the heart of Obama’s stimulus efforts. I agree Dems can do better at framing issues. It would help if more of them would be more aggressive about getting out in front of crowds, cameras and microphones.

  6. Jolly Roger says:

    I’d disagree about the Democrats being unable to elect people if they exclude people who are Rushpubliscum in everything but registration. After all, the most common thing you hear from those that do not vote is “there’s no difference between them.” When that charge happens to be true, how do you show people that there is a difference?

    1. S.W. Anderson says:

      J.R. took my, “those who aren’t strongly progressive on all issues,”

      to mean, “. . . people who are Rushpubliscum in everything but registration.”

      Clearly, we’re not talking about the same people. The type you describe are in the mix, I think, but rarer than the kind I describe. And remember, it’s relative. A candidate who’d register as a bit left of center in NYC would likely be considered a way-out-there leftist in, for example, the Dakotas, Missouri or Montana.

      Solidly progressive candidates rarely get elected in places like the Dakotas. First, progressives are scarce in those states. The few that exist rarely run for office, in part because they don’t get the encouragement and backing that would make them think they have a chance. When one does run and win, it’s likely because he or she has more of a winning personality than their opponent, or else voters want to vote an incumbent Republican out for some reason. More those things than because the progressive did a fantastic job selling voters on his/her philosophy.

      Hearts and minds, J.R. Without big changes in lots of those, it’s necessary to have some disappointing-to-us Dems in the mix, or else forget about controlling the House and Senate.

  7. Demeur says:

    I have to wonder what the out come of the next election will be. So many states voted in these extremists may be having buyers’ remorse. Look no further than Wisconsin to see their displeasure. And I think Alan Grayson may be retaking his former seat in Florida. The reddest state, South Carolina had a paltry 21% turn out for the republican primary. America is waking up albeit slowly.

    1. S.W. Anderson says:

      Good point. A lot of people should be having serious buyer’s remorse after the 2010 debacle. And, the people who voted in ’04 to give George W. Bush four more years should be so scared of their own lack of judgment that they never vote again.

  8. Jolly Roger says:

    If you poll people on the issues, the hearts and minds are malready with us. It’s the fact that left-leaning politicians will run from the “liberal” label that is dooming us; to run from that label means to embrace winger pproposals to give the impression of “bipartisanship.”

    We have to educate people as to the meaning of liberalism, of the good works liberalism have produced, and then, we have to definatly embrace the label. We’ll take a couple of electoral beatings, but the tide will turn as people become more aware of who it is we are and what it is we stand for. Even in the Dakotas.

    1. S.W. Anderson says:

      Hearts and minds being with Dems on issues too often fails to translate into election-day victories. I agree with you on what to do. Unfortunately, too few Democratic office seekers and officeholders do those things.