Inside the Capitol

Saturday, August 28, 2010

9-3 Udall Making Splash in D.C.

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- For a freshman senator, New Mexico's Sen. Tom Udall is making a big splash in Washington. Brand new members of the nation's most exclusive club are supposed to sit quietly on the back bench until they are spoken to.
But this freshman class is a little different. It is large. Most are Democrats who rode the tide of change into office and are wanting to fulfill some of those promises.
Like Udall, some of the new members have been in the U.S. House previously and know it is possible for a congressional body to move business along at a much faster pace. Others have been in state legislatures.
Udall also has spent many years living in Washington. He lived there as a child while his father spent six years in the House and eight more as secretary of the Interior under John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Udall also lived in Washington during his 10 years in the House.
Most U.S. House members do not live in Washington. They rent an apartment, often with several colleagues, or live in their office during the three nights a week when most House members are in town.
The House normally recesses Thursday afternoon and goes back into session the following Tuesday morning. Most House members, especially those with young families, come home nearly every weekend. Most of that time is spent campaigning since House members have to run constantly.
First Congressional District Rep. Martin Heinrich does that. So did his predecessor Heather Wilson. Udall and Rep. Steve Pearce, from the 2nd Congressional District stayed in Washington and reaped some of the benefits of doing so.
Pearce became a subcommittee chairman during his second term in office. Udall garnered a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee much sooner than House members normally do.
Pearce's predecessor in the 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Joe Skeen, also stayed in Washington and became a prestigious cardinal -- the chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee.
So the message is to stick around Washington as much as possible, getting to know your colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Another advantage enjoyed by Udall, Pearce and Skeen was that they represented districts that were much easier to win than New Mexico's 1st Congressional District
Senators, with their six-year terms, mostly stay in Washington or nearby. The Udalls will do that, giving Tom the opportunity to lead his freshman class in trying to change some Senate rules that currently hamstring the body.
One of the biggest concerns of the freshmen senators is the filibuster, which has a long and colorful tradition in the Senate. It can stop all proceedings indefinitely until it is ended.
Sixty votes are required to end a filibuster. That means 41 senators can block the will of 69 senators. Today just the threat of a filibuster can block any action.
Some feel the Senate Democratic leadership shouldn't cave as soon as Republicans threaten to filibuster. They should require Republicans to actually conduct filibusters, which are taxing ventures.
But Udall and many of his fellow freshmen want to change the rules. The Constitution says both houses of Congress can establish their rules at the beginning of each two-year session.
The House does that. The Senate, in 1959, passed a rule saying rules carry over from session to session. And it takes a two-thirds vote to change them.
That's a mighty tall order, considering that the Democratic leadership opposes the move since Democrats filibuster when Republicans are in power.
But Udall and friends say they are looking not to help their party but the Senate and country as a whole.
Some of the other changes Udall and others want are eliminating "holds" in which a single senator can secretly prevent action on legislation or nominees, banning earmarks for private companies, and restricting congressional pay raises.
FRI, 9-03-10

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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