Outgoing Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., acknowledged Tuesday that he advised President Obama against embracing the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission and said he did so because he feared an endorsement from the Democratic president would cause House Republicans to "reflexively" oppose the panel's blueprint for deficit reduction.
"I said to him that if he just endorsed Simpson-Bowles, that House Republicans would then in all likelihood oppose it, and that it would be better, in my judgment, for him to make the case for why a comprehensive plan along the lines of Simpson-Bowles was needed," Conrad told reporters Tuesday.
The counsel that Conrad provided came to light in the book "The Price of Politics" by veteran journalist Bob Woodward. Woodward's book is critical of Obama's leadership on deficit issues and in particular his strategy for dealing with Congress. Many pundits have criticized Obama's decision to stop short of endorsing the December 2010 blueprint produced by the White House-appointed fiscal panel. Some view that decision as suggesting a lack of resolve by the president in tackling the long-term budget challenges.
Conrad, a member of the 18-member bipartisan commission led by former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former senator Alan Simpson, voted in favor of the commission's plan. But all three House Republicans on the panel - Reps. Dave Camp, R-Mich., Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Paul Ryan, R-Wis. - voted against it. As a result, the plan fell short of getting the 14 vote supermajority it needed to automatically advance to the House floor.
Asked if he thought Obama has done a good job of making the case for deficit reduction to the public since then, Conrad hesitated.
"Well, I mean, he's certainly tried -- it's a hard thing to do, you know, it's a very hard thing to do," Conrad said. "But I did recommend to the president that if he endorsed Simpson-Bowles - which is, look, something I worked on for five years - that if he just blanket-endorsed it, House Republicans would reflexively oppose it."