Harwood: Senator, let me ask you this threshold question about Paul Ryan. You've served with him, you've done the budgets with him. Does he meet the test of being ready to take over as President on a moment's notice?
Conrad: Well, look, I like Paul. Paul is a serious person. But the policies that he would put in place I think would be a very serious problem for this country. If you think about it, he supported all the policies that brought us to the brink of financial collapse at the end of the Bush administration. So I think the policies that Paul has put out there, while he is a good person and a serious person, would really be a very serious problem for the United States.
Harwood: But in terms of demeanor, experience, knowledge, does he meet the Commander-in-Chief test which is the first test of any potential Vice President has to meet?
Conrad: Well he doesn't have foreign policy experience. He doesn't have experience obviously of being Commander-in-Chief, but no one does before they have that position. He doesn't have a military background. Look, he certainly knows the budget of the United States. But his proposals are really pretty radical. I mean if you examine the proposals that Paul has put forward, for example, those who are the wealthiest among us would get a $265,000 tax cut a year under his plan. He doesn't balance the budget for 30 years, if then. At the same time, he drastically cuts non-Medicare, non-Social Security funding; cuts it over 50 percent by 2030. So, I mean, this is radical stuff that he has proposed.
Harwood: Let me ask you, part of the indictment that Romney and Ryan are making of Obama and his party, your party, is that you haven't passed a budget in three years. You're the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, so that's a shot at you. Respond to that charge of lack of leadership.
Conrad: Well they must not have examined what they vote on because last year we passed the Budget Control Act. It is true it wasn't a resolution. It was something much stronger. It was a law. Anybody that has studied civics I think knows a law is stronger than a resolution. And that Budget Control Act, of course, cut spending $900 billion plus it said if a special committee doesn't agree on reforming entitlements and revenue, there would be another $1.2 trillion of spending cuts for a total of over $2 trillion of spending cuts. That's the biggest spending cut package in the history of the United States, so when they say this, they are, you know, playing a bit of a game with people. They're saying we didn't pass a resolution; they're not admitting that, instead, we passed a law, something much stronger.
Harwood: You served on the Simpson-Bowles Commission with Paul Ryan, and again, part of the indictment that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are making is that this President hasn't stood up to make tough choices. You voted for Simpson-Bowles, in fact, you introduced it as your budget resolution in committee. He voted against it. Tell me what the experience of serving with him taught you about his priorities on taxes, on debt and deficits, on spending, and how the American voter should interpret what he wants to do.
Conrad: It's probably the thing that concerns me the most about Paul. Simpson-Bowles, there were 18 of us, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Eleven of the 18 of us supported the plan to get our deficits and debt under control, but at the same time not risking this recovery. And of the 11 of us who supported it, five Democrats, five Republicans, one independent. But Paul was one of the seven who said no because he didn't get just the way he wanted it. You know, unfortunately, that is so much of what is wrong with Washington. People who are ideologues who say if I don't get it my way, then I'm not going to support it. So, here he had a chance to reduce the debt $4 trillion to get us back on track. Most independent observers said it was a balanced package with spending cuts, entitlement reform, and yes some additional revenue, but not by raising tax rates, and Paul Ryan said no, said no, walked away.
Harwood: Yet Paul Ryan supports much deeper spending cuts and a smaller government than you support. Doesn't that make him a more aggressive deficit hawk than you are?
Conrad: No, that's the curious thing about Paul. He is not really a deficit hawk. Again, his budget does not balance for about 30 years, and it's doubtful that it balances then. What he is in favor of, clearly, is drastically cutting domestic spending, drastically cutting Medicare over time. In fact, really he turns Medicare upside down. Currently, a Medicare beneficiary pays 25 percent of their medical costs. Under the Ryan plan, the average beneficiary would pay 68 percent of their cost. So, instead of Medicare being there for people, basically he destroys Medicare in order to, as he says, save it.
Harwood: Two final things before I let you go. First of all, you told me last night before coming on air this morning, that you thought Ryan's agenda was dangerous for the American economy. How is that?
Conrad: Because Paul endorsed all the policies that brought us to the brink of financial collapse. Can we forget that at the end of the Bush administration this economy was shrinking at a rate of nine percent? We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. Those are the economic policies that Paul Ryan supported. I can't believe the American people have a short memory and have forgotten how we got into this deep, deep recession.
Harwood: And finally a question about the politics. Everyone is wondering how this is going to play, what it is going to do in Florida. You have a Senate race in North Dakota, and I was talking to one of the consultants on your side for your candidate, Heidi Heitkamp, said the Ryan budget is hurting the Republican candidate in the red state of North Dakota. How do you see voters in your state reacting to his proposal?
Conrad: Well he devastates agriculture, and agriculture is a key part of the economy in North Dakota. I mean really draconian cuts beyond anything we had seen proposed by anyone ever. Beyond that, his proposal to really shred Medicare will not sell well in a state that is increasingly aging. More than that, I really do hope people remember, how did we get here? During the Bush era, at the end of the Bush administration, we were on the brink of financial collapse. Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney supported the policies that put us in that position.
Harwood: You're thinking that President Obama is closer to winning after this choice than Mitt Romney (inaudible)?
Conrad: I do. Look, I think the American people have common sense. Look, this President has not been perfect; none of us in public life are. But the fact is that he averted a depression. Let's never forget that.
Harwood: Senator Kent Conrad, chairman of the Budget Committee, thanks very much for joining us.