Judd Gregg: And the threat is...

Judd Gregg: And the threat is...
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When former Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) was chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, he was fond of saying — especially when trying to get the attention of his colleagues to limit their spending addiction — “the debt is the threat.”

Just before Congress departed on its Memorial Day recess, there was a near-breakthrough.

The Congressional leadership and President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE came close to an agreement on the amount of discretionary spending that would occur going forward.

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All it took to come so close was an agreement to raise the spending caps put in place in the prior year by a mere $2 trillion over 10 years.

It should be noted just for the sake of accuracy that the prior year agreement had also raised the spending caps by $2 trillion.

Thus, the near-agreement actually represented a $4 trillion lift in discretionary spending.

None of this new spending was, or will be, paid for. It will just be added to the debt.

Conrad clearly had it wrong.

The debt is only a symptom of the threat.

“The Congress is the threat” should have been his assessment, if he had really wanted to pin the tail on the donkey.

Of course, you could also throw in the president.

Trump’s lack of interest in the debt has deep roots in his private sector management style, where running up debt and then running out bankruptcies to expunge that debt was his standard business practice.

The problem cannot really be assigned to the Democratic members of Congress.

They are simply following the leadership of their candidates for president — folks such as Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersButtigieg on Biden's Iraq War vote: 'that vote was a mistake' Buttigieg on Biden's Iraq War vote: 'that vote was a mistake' The generational divide of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJulián Castro defends going on Fox: I'm focused on 'the people out there watching' Julián Castro defends going on Fox: I'm focused on 'the people out there watching' O'Rourke unveils plan to support women, minority-owned businesses MORE (D-Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe generational divide of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party 2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA 2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA MORE (D-Calif.), who at last count have proposed programs that will cost in excess of $50 trillion in new spending.

Now that is real debt.

They also share a belief that the debt is not really a threat at all, but simply a useful tool to push the social causes they are promoting — and to buy votes.

So, if not the president or the Democrats, who is left as the threat?

It must be the Republicans who are the majority in the Senate.

Once, a long-distant time ago, Republicans, especially those in the Senate, ran for office carrying the torch of fiscal responsibility.

The essence of Republicans’ purpose in wanting to govern was to not spend the people’s money at a ridiculous rate; not run up deficits of an inordinate amount; and not create an unbearable debt burden to be passed onto the next generation.

Today, the Senate Republicans have replaced that torch of fiscal restraint with a small cigarette lighter that does not seem to throw off much of a flame.

Another $2 trillion of debt to keep the government open, on top of the $2 trillion already signed up for last year, is on its way to the Treasury’s trading window, authored by none other than the Senate Republican majority.

This unpaid spending binge comes at the same time as the president is promoting a $2 trillion infrastructure program as an emblem of bipartisan agreement.

$2 trillion in spending is a catchy number. It seems to be the entry price for action in Washington.

But it is still debt.

We already have a lot of it. More than $22 trillion is now on the books and with deficits running at $1 trillion per year for the foreseeable future — even without this new spending — the nation is headed into some stormy and uncharted fiscal waters.

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One has to feel sorry for the next generation of political leaders. They are being given essentially no chance of success by this generation.

People enter public service to change the future, not clean up the past. But at this point, the future is being filled with nothing but red ink from the past.

There really is only one way to start to right the ship of state as the country heads into this rough, debt-driven storm.

It is with leadership.

Such leadership is obviously not going to come from the crop of Democratic candidates running for president or their followers in Congress.

In fact, a paraphrase of the philosopher cartoon character Pogo’s famous adage — “we have met the problem and it is us” — could be applied to the Democratic leadership today.

Leadership is also not going to come from the president, as his disinterest in the national debt is a lifelong problem.

The only group that has any likelihood of positively impacting and slowing this rising wave of debt is the group which unfortunately appears to be about to fold its tent on the issue — the Republican Senate.

Here is a different course for the Republican Senate to take on this new $2 trillion in spending that would be in the tradition of the values most Republicans used to espouse:

“PAY FOR IT.”

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.