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CORRESPONDENCE: A Gross Mischaracterization

The chairman of the Senate budget committee defends his record on education.

Kevin Carey’s characterization of my position on the education provisions in this year’s health and education reconciliation legislation is completely inaccurate. Education funding has always been one of my top priorities. And I supported student loan reform.

The exemption I had negotiated for the Bank of North Dakota was entirely appropriate given its unique status as the only state-owned bank in the country. Unlike other lenders, the Bank of North Dakota is overseen by senior state officials, including the Governor, and has a mission to support the state’s citizenry. The Bank has done an exceptional job supporting North Dakota’s students and other states have looked to it as a model in considering the creation of similar entities around the country.

Given how badly the exemption provision was misrepresented by critics and the media, I supported its removal from the final reconciliation legislation. It was not worth jeopardizing support for the overall package, which included so many other important health care and education measures. But the provision was well-intentioned and I was right to fight for its inclusion.

I was also right to insist on following the standard practice of using the most up-to-date Congressional Budget Office estimates in scoring the education provisions. As much as I might have liked to use more favorable older estimates, this would have been ridiculed by critics as an underhanded effort to cook the books.

The case for the 2008 Farm Bill, where an older score was used, was different, because the House and Senate had both already passed versions of the Farm Bill based on the older estimates. In such cases, it is the standard convention to use the older figures—figures that were up-to-date when both bodies had acted.

In the case of the reconciliation legislation, the Senate was considering the education components for the first time, so we were obligated to use the most up-to-date education scores available.

Mr. Carey has a right to make his case for further education investments. I share many of his goals. But he is wrong to mischaracterize my actions and motives on this critical issue.

Kent Conrad is Chairman of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee.