In his final act as U.S. senator, Kent Conrad voted for a bill he called necessary but one he admitted he hated.
Conrad joined the majority in voting for legislation to avoid the fiscal cliff early on New Year’s Day, but in his final speech before the Senate, Conrad said the bill was not what he hoped for.
“I believed we had to support the proposal because to fail to do so would send us back into a recession,” Conrad said. “Most economists say the economy would shrink 4 percent in the first quarter, 2 percent in the second quarter and that a million more people would be unemployed.”
Because of the threat to the economy, Conrad said he voted in favor of the legislation. But the yes vote was not a sign of full support.
“I told my colleagues I hate this agreement,” Conrad said. ”I hate it with every fiber of my being because this is not the grand bargain I hoped for or worked for or believed is so necessary to the future of our country.”
Conrad said his disdain for the legislation is simple — it does not reduce the deficit.
“This is not by any standard a deficit-reduction plan,” Conrad said. “As necessary as it is, no one should be misled that this deals with our deficit and debt because it only makes our circumstance worse. Now some question that assessment, but that is precisely the assessment that the Congressional Budget Office has come out with.”
Conrad said deficit reduction is one of the biggest challenges facing the nation and one that cannot be ignored.
“The United States is borrowing 31 cents of every dollar that it spends,” Conrad said. “That is an unsustainable circumstance. It’s improved somewhat because we were borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend. So there’s been some modest improvement, but this cannot go on. It has to be addressed or we will weaken the nation.”
Conrad said when looking at spending and revenue, the nation is near a 60-year high when it comes to spending and near a 60-year low in regards to revenue.
“So our colleagues that this is just a spending problem, I think they are missing the point,” Conrad said. “This is a problem of the relationship between spending and revenue. The gap — much higher spending than we have revenue — is what leads to deficits and additions to the debt.”
Conrad said if things don’t change, the federal debt will rise from 104 percent of gross domestic product to 115 percent by 2022.
Ultimately, Conrad said, that level of debt will harm the country.
“When you have a debt, the gross debt of more than 90 percent of our GDP, you are headed down a path that dramatically reduces your future economic growth,” he said. “That means we are reducing future economic opportunity for the people of our country.”
As he closed out his term as U.S. senator, Conrad said his biggest regret was the final budget bill did not address the real issues that face the country.
“My deep regret, my greatest regret in leaving here is we have not been able to fashion the grand bargain to put us back on track.”