Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kent Conrad, Super-Genius?

I had intended to do a post today explaining (again) that the proposed deficit commission is a joke, and is extremely unlikely to reach an agreement because it requires Republican votes, and Republicans place deficit reduction below tax cuts in their ranking of priorities.  But everyone beat me to it.  The only thing I have to add is that I do think that legislative PAYGO, if it's part of the deal, is in fact a somewhat meaningful deficit-reduction tool, depending of course on how it's actually worded.  Almost all budget gimmicks (Gramm-Rudman, etc.) are just exercises in blame-shifting and credit-taking, but PAYGO is probably marginally useful, if you want to keep deficits under control.  The commission?  That's where the blame-shifting and credit-taking come in.

So, instead of laying that out in more detail, I'll just speculate a bit about one of the key players in this little drama, the Senator from North Dakota, Kent Conrad.  Now, if you'll remember, Kent Conrad was last seen, over the summer and fall, waiving around a book on health care and mangling its thesis.  Anyway, I believe that Conrad is, in fact, sincere in his deficit hawkishness.  It was the issue he ran on in his original campaign, and at one point he actually gave up his seat over failing to keep a deficit-related promise. 

And yet by all accounts, Conrad has been the main driver of the deficit commission, which is almost certainly incapable of actually doing much of anything.  Which leads to the question: is Conrad not bright enough to figure that out?  Or is his deficit hawk stance really all for show, even if it's sincerely for show?  I'm afraid I'm right now leaning to the first of those options.

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