Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) warns that mounting federal deficits has put the United States "on the precipice of very serious consequences," raising the stakes for bipartisan talks aimed at getting the federal budget back in balance.
In an interview for the ABC News "Subway Series with Jonathan Karl," Conrad spoke in stark terms about his personal stake as a member of the so-called Gang of Six – the bipartisan group of Senators trying to come to an agreement on a plan to reduce the deficit.
"I certainly hope this leads to a result because otherwise I'm going to have wasted five years of my life," Conrad said, in an interview on the Capitol subway.
The Gang of Six has been secretly attempting to negotiate a deal to reduce the deficit with a mix of spending cuts to popular programs like Medicare and increased tax revenue.
Agreement is incredibly difficult because most Democrats do not want to consider cuts to programs like Medicare and most Republicans are unwilling to consider increasing tax revenues. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll showed Americans broadly reject cuts to the Medicare system and support higher taxes on the wealthy, rejecting two central tenets of the Republican debt-reduction plan.
"My hopes are for the country's sake that we do [find a solution to] this because it's critically important," Conrad said. "When you're borrowing 40 cents of every dollar that you spend, when revenue is the lowest that it's been in 60 years as a share of our national income, spending is the highest it's been in 60 years. You are on the precipice of very serious consequences if we don't. If it doesn't happen this year, it won't happen next year. So it's really got to happen now."
Last week, President Obama introduced his own framework for reducing the deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years, a proposed measure relying heavily on cuts in military and domestic spending and raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
Conrad told ABC News he had never heard of a 12-year plan.
"I really don't know the motivation. One thing I've learned around here is I don't know people's motivations. I just try to pay attention to what they do. And 12 years, it's an interesting concept," Conrad said.
The President also called for the formation of a new bipartisan, bicameral commission to be led by Vice President Joe Biden. The so-called "Gang of Seven" has been charged with trying to reach a deficit reduction deal that can gain traction on Capitol Hill from both parties in both chambers of Congress. Sound familiar?
Conrad said for his part, he does not feel the new group undermines the work or ideas being worked out by the Gang of Six.
"It's unclear to me what the job of this group is," Conrad said. "If you read it, it is to develop the legislative vehicle and I take that to mean, how do you take this plan a reality and how does it get implemented… And that has to be done. There's no way around that."
It's clear the White House, Congress and the American public agree the time to act on the economy is now. Forty-four percent of Americans say the economy's getting worse, the most since March 2009. But given how deeply divided Democrats and Republicans are over the solution, can an agreement be reached?
"I would not have spent hundreds and hundreds and hundreds hours of my time if I didn't think there isn't a realistic prospect," Conrad said.
ABC News' Gary Langer, Matthew Jaffe and John Parkinson contributed to this report.