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Conrad, during a Senate Budget Committee hearing, said he and his fellow lawmakers also deserve blame for "not doing a good job of coming back for what really matters," reform of the healthcare delivery system. He cited experts who argue that such reforms could cut health costs without harming quality of care.

"It's almost nowhere in the debate," Conrad said. "Instead, it's 'death panels' and things that don't even exist that get the attention."

Conrad made the remarks in response to testimony from economists warning about the long-term federal debt problem, which is largely due to increased Medicare costs. Conrad and other Democrats expressed frustration that the healthcare legislation, which its backers said would reduce deficits, has stalled after the Obama administration and Democrats spent months working on it.

"We've lost an entire year of this administration already before we can really deal with this" fiscal and healthcare problem, said Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseJuan Williams: Momentum builds against gerrymandering Overnight Regulation: FTC launches probe into Equifax | Dems propose tougher data security rules | NYC aims to slash greenhouse gas emissions | EPA to reconsider Obama coal ash rule Overnight Cybersecurity: Kaspersky to testify before House | US sanctions Iranians over cyberattacks | Equifax reveals flaw that led to hack MORE (D-R.I.).