Washington (CNN) - Sen. Kent Conrad said Thursday he won an exemption for the state-owned Bank of North Dakota to continue making federally backed student loans under legislation that would alter the loan process.
He said the special treatment for the bank will be included in the budget reconciliation bill, which contains both fixes to health care legislation and changes to the way federally secured student loans are made.
Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said his state's bank deserves to stay in the student loan business because it both originates and services low-interest student loans.
"They are not like these other institutions that have created these problems," he said.
Democrats have criticized private banks for earning profits by making federally backed loans, while also pocketing a subsidy from taxpayers. Under the bill, the federal government would make the loans directly and keep any earned profits from the loans.
Washington (CNN) - CNN has learned President Obama is seriously considering an executive order to create a bipartisan commission that could weigh sweeping tax increases and spending cuts to popular programs like Social Security and Medicare in order to try slash the soaring federal deficit.
Documents obtained by CNN show that top advisers to the President have been privately weighing various versions of a commission and there are differing opinions about how to structure it. Officials say that some inside the administration are pushing for a narrow mandate because it's too complicated to tackle reform of the tax system and various popular federal spending programs all at once.
"Each major category of fiscal policy - Social Security, Medicare, discretionary spending, revenues - raises a complex and idiosyncratic array of policy problems and prescriptions," according to the documents detailing some of the administration's deliberations. "Achieving consensus on any one of these issues - much less all of them simultaneously - may be more than the political system can reasonably accommodate."
But officials told CNN that other advisers to the president are pushing for the commission to have a broad mandate to put all of these big issues "on the table" at the same time.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - The push to address the United States' long-term fiscal problems - and to remove the debate from the partisanship in Congress - took a step forward Wednesday.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and the committee's top Republican, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., introduced legislation that would create a bipartisan task force charged with making recommendations to Congress for reining in runaway spending growth that threatens to overwhelm the federal budget.
Noting that the country's debt as a percentage of gross domestic product is on track to double by 2019, and grow more than three times that size thereafter, Conrad told reporters, "there is not a serious observer who would conclude that that is a sustainable circumstance for the United States."
The commission's main goal would be to figure out what the country needs to do to get its budget back on a more balanced track.
Specifically, the commission would suggest ways to curb spending growth - especially in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security - and to boost tax revenue.
(CNN) - More and more, a possible compromise on how to overhaul the nation's ailing health-care system is taking shape.
Senators from both parties provided further clues Sunday to the potential form of a final agreement on the partisan issue that has sparked a heated nationwide debate, including last week's unprecedented heckling of President Barack Obama in Congress.
Two prominent senators said Sunday that a House health-care bill drafted by Democrats and vehemently opposed by Republicans and conservatives is dead. The senators - Democrat Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - said on Fox News Sunday that any chance for a health-care overhaul focuses now on a compromise bill being negotiated by members of the Senate Finance Committee.
Another senior Demoratic lawmaker on Sunday promised that the Senate's health-care bill would include a public option that would have support from "some" Republicans.
"The bill - mark my word, I'm the chairman - is going to have a strong public option," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who recently fill the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Harkin was speaking to a supportive crowd at his annual steak fry fundraiser for Iowa Democrats.
Meanwhile, a moderate Republican senator considered one of the few who might cross the aisle to support health-care legislation being pushed by Democrats said she rejects a possible compromise provision - a trigger mechanism that would bring in a government-funded public health insurance option in the future if initial reforms fail to achieve specific thresholds.
NEW YORK (CNN) - A top Democratic senator touting the creation non-profit cooperatives for health care reform said the business model has been "very successful" and "would certainly contribute to holding down" soaring health costs.
But Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota told CNN's American Morning Tuesday that such a plan, floated as an alternative to public health insurance, wouldn't be the chief driver in decreasing health care costs.
"If you believe competition helps drive down costs, then they would certainly contribute to holding down costs," Conrad said, referring to cooperatives - which are not-for-profit membership-run health plans.
"I think it's very important not to overpromise here. The Congressional Budget Office tells us the big levers in terms of affecting cost lie elsewhere," Conrad said.
"The big levers are reforming the delivery system in this country to move to the kinds of integrated systems like Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic that work so well in holding down costs and delivering high quality care and other reforms - the insurance market reforms and changing the tax subsidy to health care. The experts tell us those are the big drivers in terms of altering costs," Conrad said.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - A key Senate negotiator said Sunday that President Barack Obama should drop his push for a government-funded public health insurance option because the Senate will never pass it.
Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota said it was futile to continue to "chase that rabbit" due to the lack of 60 Senate votes needed to overcome a filibuster.
"The fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for a public option. There never have been," Conrad said on "FOX News Sunday."
Conrad is one of six Senate Finance Committee members - three Democrats and three Republicans - who are negotiating a compromise health-care bill that would be the only bipartisan proposal so far.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Two prominent U.S. senators were cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee Friday after a year-long investigation into allegations they received special, unusually favorable terms on mortgages from lender Countrywide Financial.
The six-member committee, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, found "no substantial, credible evidence" that mortgages given to Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, both Democrats,
violated Senate ethics rules.
At the same time, it concluded that the senators "should have exercised more vigilance in (their) dealings with Countrywide in order to avoid the appearance that (they) were receiving preferential treatment."
In June 2008, it was revealed that Countrywide - one of the companies accused of fueling the subprime mortgage crisis - gave favorable mortgage rates to Conrad and Dodd.
The two senators were enrolled in Countrywide's "V.I.P." program, designed to process and fund home loans for certain customers and senior-level Countrywide employees. Some V.I.P. customers referred by former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo were also known as "Friends of Angelo," according to the committee report.
The committee noted, however, that all V.I.P. and "Friends of Angelo" mortgages were required to meet standards similar to the company's other loans. It also found that discounts offered by the two programs were not the best deals available at either Countrywide or in the broader mortgage marketplace.
Dodd said he sought out Countrywide in 2003 to refinance his two homes - one in his home state of Connecticut and the other in the District of Columbia. He claimed that he never met or discussed the loans with Mozilo.
Conrad used Countrywide in 2004 to obtain a loan for a beach house in Delaware and an apartment building in Bismarck, North Dakota. He told the committee he "briefly" spoke with Mozilo about obtaining a mortgage for the beach house.
The committee concluded that neither Conrad nor Dodd sought to be included in the V.I.P. program. But once they became aware that their loans were "being handled through a program with the name 'V.I.P.,' that should have raised red flags," it noted.
Conrad and Dodd, who insisted they had not acted improperly, both said they were gratified by the committee's finding.
"While I should have shown more vigilance in the appearance of these transactions, the committee has concluded I did nothing unethical, and that is the truth," Conrad said in a written statement.
Dodd, who is facing a tough re-election bid in 2010, said he hopes that the dismissal of the charges "will go a long way towards restoring the bond of trust and confidence that I've worked long and hard to build with the people of (Connecticut)."
But "now that the facts have been aired and the lessons learned, it's time to move on."
WASHINGTON (CNN) - A controversial new tax on employer-provided medical benefits is gaining traction among Senate health care negotiators as a way to help pay for a $1 trillion reform package moving through Congress, two key senators said Wednesday.
Bipartisan Senate negotiators are "starting to coalesce" around the idea, according to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana.
Any tax is controversial - but this proposal is especially politically charged, since President Barack Obama opposed the idea when he ran for president. White House officials from the president on down have sent mixed messages in public in recent weeks about whether he'd accept such a tax.
Baucus says the president has told him he is "flexible" on the proposal.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Senate negotiators have cut about $400 billion from a $1.6 trillion health reform proposal, but that still leaves them short of their targeted price goal of about $1 trillion, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, told reporters Tuesday.
"The price has come down quite markedly but we still have a lot of work to do. This is a challenging legislative set of considerations," Conrad said. "It's hard."
Conrad is one of a handful of bipartisan Finance Committee members who are meeting regularly in closed-door sessions to try to hammer out an agreement. Getting the price tag down to about $1 trillion is key to getting a bill passed, they say.