At a public forum last week in New Hampshire, former U.S. senators Judd Gregg and Kent Conrad warned of difficult federal budget decisions ahead and urged elected officials to pursue more sustainable fiscal policy solutions.
Gregg, a Republican from New Hampshire, and Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota, participated in a public forum at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College on Oct. 12 in Manchester. The event was one of several this year marking The Concord Coalition’s 25th anniversary.
Conrad and Gregg — a member of Concord’s national board — worked together in the Senate. Both served as budget committee chairman and were on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Simpson-Bowles Commission). Robert L. Bixby, Concord’s executive director, served as moderator for the program.
The two former senators discussed fiscal policy lessons that have been learned over the past 25 years and the challenges facing our nation now and in the future.
Gregg quoted a phrase that he said Conrad coined in the Senate: “The debt is the threat.” Tackling that threat requires compromise and bipartisanship.
“In our system of checks and balances, compromise is required,” Gregg said. “For people to accept the changes that are necessary, which are not Draconian, you have to have fairness, which is defined in our system as bipartisanship.”
He added: “Bipartisanship means stepping on the toes of your own constituencies; it’s presumed you will step on the toes of your opponent’s constituencies.”
Conrad was quick to identify points of agreement with his former Senate colleague: “One thing Gregg and I agree on is that this is a fundamental threat to the country, not immediate, but important and a major threat.”
Conrad also emphasized the importance of the challenges facing our nation.
“These are not just numbers on a page, they are numbers that matter,” he said. “What we desperately need are leaders willing to address these issues, and they need to stand up and offer a plan.”
Taking such a stand would not come without political challenges. “In politics,” Conrad said, “when you start making choices, you start losing friends.”
Bixby agreed, adding that elected leaders need to make tough choices to fix the structural gap in the federal budget that results from spending chronically outpacing revenues.
“As a member of Congress, you have the uncomfortable choice of cutting entitlements or raising taxes, or both,” Bixby said.
In response to a question from the audience regarding what individual citizens can do, Conrad said it was important to attend candidate events and congressional member meetings to make sure the voices of fiscal responsibility are heard. Gregg echoed that sentiment and noted The Concord Coalition’s long record of encouraging such engagement, which Bixby said will continue to be a central focus of the organization.