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Published December 08 2012

Forum editorial: Budget fix stymied by politics

If retiring U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., had his way, the nation’s budget crisis would be over in about a half hour. The chairman of the Budget Committee told The Forum’s Editorial Board last week that the disagreements between President Barack Obama and Republican leaders of the U.S. House could be quickly ended if political posturing and dueling news conferences were ended. The senator, who blames the extremes in both parties for the impasse, is hopeful a compromise will be reached before the nation begins a slow fall off the so-called fiscal cliff.

Conrad knows what he’s talking about. He’s served on several bipartisan committees and commissions, all of which have come to essentially the same conclusions he outlined for Forum editors. The numbers work, he said, if everyone gives a little and the president and party leaders stop pandering to the extreme left and extreme right of their respective parties.

Conrad ends 26 years in the Senate on Jan. 3. His expertise in the federal budget and the nation’s economy is recognized by his colleagues, no matter their political persuasion. When he crunches the numbers without the distortion of political ideology, compromise looks far closer than recent news reports suggest.

We hope so. The nation’s economy is not recovering from recession as fast as it should because of uncertainty generated by gridlock in Congress. And it is Congress, after all, not the president, that must pass legislation to end the impasse. When members of Congress complain the president has not done enough to advance a plan, it’s little more than a political stunt to embarrass the president. It’s not working. Congress should pass its own plan. It should be balanced enough to avoid a presidential veto.

The president won the election. He campaigned on a tax policy that resonates not only with those who voted for him but also others who like the fairness aspect of his income tax proposals. Whether it’s fair or not, polls show it is popular. He is holding the stronger hand. Republicans know it, and they are risking both the economy and their already low status by holding out for everything they want.

American business is nervous because of the stall in Washington. Investments will not be made and employees will not be hired in such an atmosphere. Congress and the president have an obligation to, at least, approve a fiscal cliff-avoiding compromise that gives businesses, investors and employers some sense of direction and stability. Absent that, the economy could slide back into recession.

If the president and congressional leaders need some advice, they should ask Conrad.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.