Sen. Conrad on challenges ahead for the U.S. budget

North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad

Jeremy Hobson: Looks like we may have a federal budget for another few weeks. The house passed a stopgap funding measure yesterday that cuts $6 billion in spending over a three week period. The measure is expected to be approved by the Senate and signed by the President this week.

For more on all of this, we're joined from Washington by the chair of the Senate Budget Committee Democratic Senator Kent Conrad. Good morning.

Kent Conrad: Good morning.

Hobson: How long can these short-term budget measures continue?

Conrad: Well they shouldn't continue much longer, because it's an incredibly inefficient way to run any large entity, certainly the federal government.

Hobson: You're one of the six senators who's in this gang of six that may be the best hope, some think, for getting some kind of a compromise on the budget. Are tax increases on the table in that group?

Conrad: We're borrowing 40 cents of every dollar that we spend. That means, if you try to do this just on the spending side of the ledger, you'd have to cut everything 40 percent: Social Security, Medicare, defense. That's just not realistic. Revenue is low, expenditures are high. Both have to be addressed.

Hobson: How important do you think it is that this gets solved this year, before we get into a presidential election year?

Conrad: I think it's critically important. The kind of long range, comprehensive arrangement that is clearly needed is just unlikely to happen in a presidential election year. We need to act this year to put in place a plan that begins modestly, but then has big and bold action as you go through the remaining 10 years of the budget cycle.

Hobson: Do you think that the events that are going on in Japan and in the Middle East and across North Africa have change the dynamic in terms of our economic recovery?

Conrad: Yes, I think without question. Rising oil prices threaten the recovery. What's happening in Japan causes another blow to confidence. So I think there's no question that these events that are external are having an adverse effect on our own recovery, which is really been preceding in a pretty healthy way.

Hobson: Do you think the Fed should continue its $600 billion bond-buying program?

Conrad: Yes I do. I think most economists now believe that that has contributed to economic recovery. But again, what is so essential is that we put in place a long-term plan that brings the debt down and if we do it, it will pay big dividends for job creation and for opportunity for the people that we all represent.

Hobson: Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, chair of the Senate Budget Committee. Thanks so much for joining us.

Conrad: Good to be with you.

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