Todd: Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat has made trimming debt and deficits his priority during his decades in Washington and he hopes to take a bipartisan crack one more time before heading home in December.
Conrad: I came here to do big things. You know, the whole reason I made that deficit and debt pledge was I really believed that debt is a threat, and at some point it can swamp a country. And you know, debt is helpful to a point, and it at a point it becomes a dangerous burden. And you know, we're not into doing big things right now and I've been focused for five years, you know Senator Greg and I came up with this idea of a commission that turned into the Bowles-Simpson Commission. I served on the Bowles-Simpson Commission. I served on the Group of Six. I've spent hundreds of hours negotiating and while groups of us had reached an agreement, the broader body does not seem ready to act. I hope that changes before I leave here. But, I think that is one reason.
Todd: You say you want to do big things; big things are going to be forced upon the next Senate. Isn't that fair to say?
Conrad: I very much hope that we do it before the next Senate.
Todd: Do you think it's possible, December, post election?
Conrad: I do.
Todd: What's the scenario that actually creates an opening to do big things? Is it a Republican House, Obama reelection, 50/50 Democratic Senate, what is it?
Conrad: I think the best chance for this to happen is the President is re-elected, the Senate does not change hands, the House does not change hands, and you have all of these things facing us, the expiration of all the Bush tax cuts, the sequester and the additional $1.2 trillion of spending cuts, the end of the payroll tax holiday, the alternative minimum tax coming back in force. That all of these constellation events, the debt ceiling extension being required early next year, will bring this collective body to the realization that they need to act.
Todd: So your message to the country is if you want something done, don't offer up a reward for delay, a political reward for delay?
Conrad: I think, especially if the presidency changes hands, there is almost certainly very little chance that the grand bargain can be struck. The greatest chance for the grand bargain to be struck is if the President is re-elected. This President, you know I was the second one to endorse him --
Todd: Right. Why did you pick him at the time? What stood out?
Conrad: Well he called me. I was in the Senate gym, and he said, "Hey are you going to come out and help your pal or are you just going to sit on the sidelines?" And, you know, we were pals from the Senate, not close but shared a sense of humor more than anything. So I said, "No, I'll come and help you." Why? Because I saw something special in him. He recognized that going to war in Iraq was a huge mistake which I believed deeply that it was. I thought it was a major mistake for this country. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, had nothing to do with the attack on the United States, and somehow that all got confused in the public mind. And, I really respected him for recognizing it to be a mistake, and for speaking up. That's, I'd say, the biggest reason I endorsed him. But he was also somebody that was like-minded fiscally, recognized the deficits and debt are a long-term challenge. And some might say why has he allowed this to happen? And you have to put that in historical perspective. He inherited a colossal mess, he inherited a circumstance in which we were on the brink of a second depression and it took a tremendous effort to prevent us from going into a depression.
Todd: On to North Dakota Politics and the race to replace you, Heidi Heitcamp and Rick Berg, advice to whoever wins? I assume I know who you're for.
Conrad: North Dakota expects you to have more than party loyalty. North Dakota wants people to come here and get results for the people of North Dakota. That has been the thing I have tried to be focused on like a laser, getting results. Not giving speeches, not being an ideologue, getting results. That's what people send you to get done here.
Todd: Is that why you think you're a red state Democrat that has essentially survived over the years?
Conrad: And thrived. Last time I was re-elected with almost 70% of the vote. So, yeh, I think it's because I stayed very close to my constituency, and that I focused on getting results.
Todd: I think Republicans have proven that if they stick together it's good politics. How do you think Democrats, if they are in the minority, will end up responding the same way because they say hey it worked for them?
Conrad: Well that's what always happens around here. I've been here 26 years. Look, at some point, and I guess one of my frustrations about the place is at some point the country has got to come first, and we're there in terms of the long-term challenges to America. This is a time both sides need to put aside the more intense partisan feelings and get a result for this country.