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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published November 17 2012

Sen. Conrad's last patient: federal budget woes

ST. PAUL – Dakota interrupted Sen. Kent Conrad as he discussed the impending “fiscal cliff.”

The North Dakota Democrat calmed his dog, explaining the pet has cancer and was restless.

A veterinarian is treating Dakota, much like Conrad is trying to calm the country by curing federal government budget problems. And he only has until the end of the year to do it because he is retiring after 26 years in the Senate.

“I would like nothing better at the end of my career to have played at least some part getting back on track from these massive deficits in the Bush years and the Obama years,” Conrad told Forum Communications, one of countless interviews with media from around the world he has done in the past year and a half of battling federal budget woes.

As Senate Budget Committee chairman, Conrad is a key to finding the cure. But not all will be well by the time he leaves Congress.

“I’m very hopeful that a framework agreement will be agreed to before I leave,” he said, adding that it will be up to the new Congress to fill in details.

But leaving without a full solution does not bother him. “There is no time you can leave here, ever, that there are not things to be done, an unfinished agenda.”

A Democrat from a neighboring state often praises Conrad’s budget work.

“He never has stopped negotiating and working hard on the debt,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. “Until the very end, he will be involved.”

Conrad is a good person to be in the position, she added, because “he has always been someone who is willing to compromise.”

His fellow North Dakota senator, John Hoeven, is a Republican, but they agree on the basics of a solution.

“I think he is working to try to get a package along the lines we are talking about,” Hoeven said.

Conrad is part of the “Gang of Eight,” with both Democrats and Republicans, that has sought a budget compromise.

It is not the first time Conrad has been in this position. In the 1990s, he was part of the effort to balance the budget, an accomplishment he calls one of his proudest moments.

“I spent an enormous amount of time in a group I led here called the deficit reduction caucus,” Conrad recalled.

Many of the ideas coming out of that group were used to balance the budget while Bill Clinton was president, something many observers say was Clinton’s most important legacy.

Conrad would like a repeat.

“It would be a very good way for me to leave this position, having been able to helping get us back on track and also passing a farm bill,” he said.

Don Davis writes for

Forum Communications