- The Washington Times - Monday, July 11, 2011

As congressional leaders and President Obama met behind closed doors Monday afternoon to discuss ways to tackle the nation’s ballooning debt, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad released basic details of his 2012 budget that calls for lowering the nation’s debt by $4 trillion over the next decade.

The North Dakota Democrat’s debt reduction target — the same amount pushed by President Obama during the ongoing debt limit talks — would be reached through a series of spending cuts and tax increases, including closing some corporate tax loopholes and tax havens.

Mr. Conrad’s action comes almost three months after the House passed its 2012 budget and well past the April 15 deadline for Congress to pass a joint budget, a deadline that is rarely met.

“I don’t think it’s ever too late until the fat lady sings,” the senator said. “What’s needed for the country is at least a $4 trillion package.”

Mr. Conrad calls for “modest” cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicare, and “modest” tax increases, but Social Security wouldn’t be touched.

The plan calls for raising taxes on the wealthy, extending Alternative Minimum Tax relief and $800 billion in defense cuts.

The proposal also includes a two-year pay freeze for civilian government workers, a three-year freeze in the congressional and White House budgets and a 20 percent reduction in the federal vehicle fleet.

Because his budget “framework” wasn’t a complete budget blueprint, many details are still uncertain. And while the senator was mum on when — or if — he would submit a complete budget resolution, he said it was important to outline the details now “to show that Democrats have come up with a plan that gets you $4 trillion in real deficit reduction.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, criticized Mr. Conrad for withholding details of his plan, calling it a “phantom budget.”

“He said it’s a blueprint, he said it’s a framework, but he didn’t say it’s a budget because it’s not a budget,” Mr. Sessions said. “If it’s such a good budget, why don’t you print it up and propose it?”

Mr. Conrad’s proposal is seen as helping boost the president’s push for a long-term debt deal that also calls for $4 trillion in cuts. Many Republicans, including House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, have called for a smaller package of about $2 trillion in cuts that wouldn’t raise taxes.