Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

1-12 How Udall Snared Coveted Panel

SANTA FE -- Rep. Tom Udall's surprise capture of a coveted seat on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee was much like many other overnight successes in this world -- the result of years of hard work and planning.
It wasn't an accident, fluke, luck or anything else of that nature. It had been in the works for a long time. And it was evidence that playing by the old rules still works quite well, thank you.
Udall had been working at getting a seat on this most powerful of all committees ever since former Rep. Joe Skeen announced his retirement almost five years ago. Skeen had been on the Appropriations Committee for many years and had chaired several of its subcommittees.
That made Skeen a "cardinal," a title given to Appropriations subcommittee chairmen because of the tremendous power they wield. Udall won't be chairing a subcommittee anytime soon, but that's where he's headed.
Skeen and Udall both gained their precious committee seat the same way. They both chose to live in Washington and spend most of their weekends there. U.S. senators do that and it once was what House members were expected to do.
Living in Washington allows members of Congress to get to know each other on a social basis. It brings our representatives much closer to each other. It builds an atmosphere of trust and bipartisanship.
Living in Washington enabled Rep. Udall to get to know Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee and now its chairman. It also allowed him to get to know House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
Udall let both of them know what he wanted as soon as the time became right. The Democratic capture of the U.S. House made it the right time because the majority party has quite a few more members on each committee than does the minority party.
So Rep. Udall got on the Appropriations Committee at the beginning of his fifth term in the U.S. House. That's a little quicker than most House members get on that committee, but Udall had played his cards at least as well as anyone in the House.
And why not, considering his mentor? Udall's father, Stuart Udall, was a member of Congress in the 1950s. He lived in Washington, so that's where Tom grew up. When Jack Kennedy became president in 1960, he chose Stuart as his secretary of the Interior Department. How's that for knowing how to get plugged into the system?
The opportunity to network in Washington has decreased since Republicans took over Congress in 1994 and began encouraging freshmen to leave their families in their district, leading to less time in Washington.
To accommodate that practice, floor votes were taken only Tuesday morning through Thursday noon. New Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says she plans to discontinue that practice and return to a five-day work week.
We can only hope that returning to a schedule that encourages living in Washington also will encourage more bipartisanship. Maybe some ice cream socials need to be planned to get the socializing started again.
In the days when Republican leaders were encouraging members to keep their families at home, some of those leaders were living in their offices, a no-no for members of Congress. Members of the media then began patrolling the halls of congressional office buildings to see if they could catch congressmen in their jammies and report on the infractions.
Our own Sen. Pete Domenici recently became a victim of the pajama patrol when he was spotted wearing what a reporter from Roll Call newspaper thought were pajamas. Bloggers excitedly picked up the story since their unofficial work attire is pajamas. Soon blogs were screaming things like "Senator in Pajamas Terrorizes Washington."
What a crock. Pete lives in Washington, near the Capitol. He is known for working weekends and holidays, at home and in his office. He had on a pair of hunting pants, which city-boy reporters wouldn't recognize.

Jay Miller's INSIDE THE CAPITOL, Fri,1-12-07

I will be sending only two columns this week, instead of the usual three.


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