Bingaman ponders reelection bid

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U.S. Senate has become a far less admirable institution

By Hal Rhodes

We have become such a rancorous lot, we Americans.
Perhaps that’s why many New Mexicans had a moment’s pause when Jeff Bingaman recently let it be known that he is thinking about not seeking another term in the U.S. Senate come 2012.
Bingaman is that rare political figure who rarely blows his cool, an isle of balance and sanity in a sea of roiling political waters.
Where others in his line of work seem unable to suppress their impulse for grandstanding and bombast when opportunity presents itself, the state’s senior senator manages routinely to hold his tongue and bide his time before calmly entering the fray.
Consider the bedlam inside the Beltway last week after President Obama and Republican congressional leaders unveiled their perhaps ill-fated deal to extend Bush-era tax cuts and long term unemployment benefits, among other matters, including a one-year reduction in Social Security payroll taxes.
The media were instantly awash in tales of congressional Democrats’ anger at their president for agreeing to a two-year extension of Bush-era tax cuts for individuals making over $250,000 a year.    
       Somewhat overlooked in the tumult was the unhappiness disgruntled Capitol Hill Republicans displayed toward their own congressional leadership for striking a deal that will escalate the budget deficit and national debt by an estimated $600 billion.
As these lines are composed, it is not clear where Bingaman will come down on the package, although he did express “serious concerns about some parts” of the proposal.
Nonetheless, the senator declined to jump on any bandwagon, pro or con, until he had evaluated it in its entirety.
You have to respect a lawmaker who refuses to be driven by the passions of the moment and/or the roar of the mob. Unfortunately, far too many lack this quality today.
Cases in point are Bingaman’s southwestern senatorial colleagues in the state just west of New Mexico, John McCain and Jon Kyle. Even as the president was announcing what had been accomplished by way of a compromise on key tax matters, Arizona’s two most practiced grandstanders were racing for the nearest TV cameras lest they fail to get face time on late night network and cable news programs.
There’s nothing new about conduct of this sort in politics. Indeed it is far too common.   Nonetheless, shooting from the lip is simultaneously unseemly and quite at odds with the hoary doctrine dictating deliberation as a necessary prelude to the task of law-making.
As he ponders running for another term in the Senate two years hence, Bingaman has pointed out that it has always been his practice to weigh his course of action before embarking on it. So perhaps the speculation that he is inching toward a no-run in 2012 decision is just that, idle speculation.
Goodness knows the Senate is a far less admirable institution than it was in 1983 when Bingaman first entered that body. During the last two years, the lifespan of the current Congress, Senate Republicans have shamelessly abused the filibuster and used other obstructionist tactics to thwart an array of meritorious legislative measures, including critically important energy legislation Bingaman had hoped to report out of the Senate Energy Committee he chairs.
It has to be frustrating, especially for a lawmaker like Bingaman who has routinely reached across the aisle for collaboration with his Republican counterparts.
But it’s hard to see how the Senate, the nation or New Mexico would be better places if thoughtful and level-headed senators like Jeff Bingaman abandon the good fight because they have understandably wearied of charlatans and cads.

Hal Rhodes
NM News Services