WASHINGTON -- The Senate's Democratic Budget Chairman drew his own line in the sand of raising the nation's debt limit Tuesday, saying he'll oppose anything that doesn't cut spending massively -- before the 2012 elections.
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) made this declaration in response to reports that Vice President Biden and bipartisan negotiators on Capitol Hill were zeroing in on a compromise of around $2.4 trillion in debt reduction -- with plans to cut more -- accompanied by a $2.4 trillion hike in the country's credit card limit.
Biden met negotiators on the Hill again today to work on the deal, but Conrad -- speaking as the Biden meeting wrapped up -- said he would not settle for a deal that just cuts debt by $2.4 trillion and lets the country get through the election season.
"My own belief is if they reach an agreement and that passes and the debt limit then does not have to be dealt with through next year's election, there'll be very little appetite here to do what really has to be done to get our economic house in order," Conrad told reporters.
"I'm talking $4 trillion -- actually more than that -- over 10 years," he added.
Conrad had been leading the "Gang of Six" bipartisan budget negotiations, but that effort lost steam after other Democrats criticized Conrad for going too far to the right, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) quit the group.
The Biden-led effort has come to the fore since then, working on an agreement with a deadline looming of Aug. 2, when Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner warns the country will begin to default on its debt if the cap is not raised.
Conrad said he might be willing to back a short-term extension to avoid a catastrophic default -- but no more than six months. This would certainly not be enough to lay the issue to rest for the elections.
"I believe now that it is essential that we send a very clear message that some of us are not going to vote for any long-term extension of the debt, unless there is a credible plan to deal with our debt," he said, specifying that he wants more than $4 trillion in cuts over 10 years.
He says he won't back a smaller package because he believes legislators will duck the issue if they can. "Unless you keep the pressure on around here, unless there's leverage it'll just be allowed to slip," he said.
"There are others who feel this way on both sides of the aisle," he added, though he did not name names. "This is the number one challenge facing this country."