Udall makes his mark on Washington

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE – What happened to the big filibuster reform New Mexico’s U.S. Sen. Tom Udall was going to introduce on the first day of this session of Congress?
We were told that the motion had to be acted on during the first day of a congressional session when changes to a chamber’s operating rules are in order and can be changed by majority vote rather than the 60 percent vote so often required these days.
The answer is that Udall got his rule change introduced with 14 cosponsors, including New Mexico’s new senator, Martin Heinrich. The rules change awaited action for three weeks because the legislative day never changed.
How could that be? Congress and many state legislatures have rules requiring a waiting period between certain actions on bills. But sometimes they want to rush a bill through so they save some legislative days early in a session.
Legislative days in New Mexico begin and end at noon – theoretically. In actuality, they begin and end when the speaker of the House or majority floor leader of the Senate deems it convenient for moving bills along. It is called “rolling the clock.”
The majority leader of the chamber will rise and say, “It now being 11:59 of the 1st legislative day, I move we adjourn until 12:01 of the 2nd legislative day.
During the approximate two minutes in between, all the necessary motions for moving to the next day are made, including “I move that the prayer for today be the prayer for tomorrow.” The motion really isn’t necessary because every session begins with a prayer by a pastor of a local church. In Congress it is a permanent job.
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid may have set some sort of record this year by extending the first legislative day for three weeks. Reid says he expanded the first day in order to create some time for negotiation on filibuster reform. Both sides are moving gingerly because the same rules also will apply when the power changes in the Senate.
Sen. Reid was anxious to move on so he took over the Senate Demoratic negotiations, meaning Udall and the other co-sponsors had nothing to day.
The result wsas a weak ompromise affecting only a few points but Udall and friends accepted it as being better than the last time they tried.
The change in filibuster rules won’t have Udall’s name attached to it. Reid redesign it to fit his needs. Udall’s name won’t be attached to any filibuster decision in Washington. Sen. Reid likely will get the credit, or blame.
Mention of Udall’s name most often occurs in Washington these days in connection with an appointment as secretary of the Interior Department, replacing retiring Ken Salazar of Colorado. Udall’s father Stewart Udall served as Interior secretary in the Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations. The Washington Post reports that Salazar has suggested Udall’s appointment.
Favorable comments are being made about the possibility of a Tom Udall appointment in Washington but it won’t happen. New Mexico’s Republican Gov. Susana Martinez would appoint Udall’s replacement until the 2014 elections.
Martinez would be certain to appoint a Republican. With the Democratic U.S. Senate margin so tight, the switch of a seat from Democratic to Republican could affect the outcome of some votes. New Mexico Democrats would prefer to see New Mexico’s retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman receive the appointment since that wouldn’t destroy the political balance.
But Bingaman isn’t likely to want the appointment and probably wouldn’t get it anyway. Much has been said about President Obama’s all-white male appointments to his cabinet. Look for female, minority or gay appointees to many of the remaining spots.
Udall likely is right where he wants to be. A cabinet appointment would last only four years. His career in the U.S. Senate could be much longer. And he already is on the coveted Senate Appropriations Committee.