Bennet needs to push action in lame-duck Senate session
On his triumphant return to the Senate, Michael Bennet was offered, but quickly refused, the prestigious chairmanship of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. Both sides showed good judgment in this regard.
The Democratic leadership recognizes that Bennet is no ordinary freshman senator. His previous 22 months on the job have shown his leadership skills in the Senate. Beating the odds in the Democratic primary and against a conservative Republican in the general election impressed Democratic party leadership with Bennet’s campaigning and fundraising skills. While it is unusual for a freshman senator to be offered such a powerful leadership position, Bennet has earned his party’s recognition.
Chairman of the DSCC would not, however, be the best choice for Bennet or Colorado. The Washington Post story suggests his three children were the reason Bennet decided against the chairmanship. If this is so, Colorado voters owe the Bennet girls some thanks that we will have a full-time working senator, rather than a party bagman, in Washington.
Before the election, Bennet voted against adjourning the Senate. “I voted against adjournment of the Senate because we have unfinished business,” he said at the time. “The Senate should be more concerned about doing what’s right for the country and less concerned about campaign season.” Perhaps that thought, as well as concern for his family, influenced his decision to stake his future on being effective in the Senate.
Until now, Bennet has been facing a re-election battle since the day he was appointed. Many Colorado Democrats, believing he had no legitimate claim to the seat to which he was appointed, gave him only lukewarm support. Republicans targeted his seat as one of their primary pick-up objectives.
The Democratic primary settled any question of Bennet’s claim to his Senate seat. His general-election victory over a populist Republican with both tea party and establishment support puts Colorado voters on the side of progress in jobs, health care, energy and the environment.
The unfinished agenda Bennet outlined when he voted against adjournment still faces the Senate. With the prospect of a divided Congress next year, it becomes even more important that Democrats use their majorities to deal with the Bush tax cuts and other issues before control of the House passes to the GOP.
Bennet also called for passage of the Defense Appropriation Bill, which includes an amendment to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy against gays serving openly in the military.
Other pressing issues facing the lame-duck Senate include the Disclose Act, which would require that corporate CEOs state on camera that they approve the messages they sponsor. Other measures in the bill assure transparency in election financing and protect the integrity of the electoral process. This bill will mitigate the effects of the Supreme Court decision granting corporations personhood and allowing corporations unlimited anonymous spending on elections.
Bennet co-sponsored the Disclose Act last February. He should urge its passage now, since House Republicans have already signaled they will not bring it up next year.
Extending unemployment benefits and addressing the problem of those who have exhausted their benefits are also compelling issues that could better be handled by the Democrats now rather than in the next Congress.
As the Senate Democrats caucus to set their agenda for the lame-duck session, there is likely to be a split between senators who want to do the minimum and those who would rather deal with as many issues as possible while they still have a majority. On budget issues, this should include using the reconciliation process if Republicans continue their obstructionist tactics.
Bennet has been an advocate of action in the Senate. The vote against adjournment was not his first objection to the senate not meeting its obligations to pass effective legislation.
Sen. Bennet should stick to that principle and push for Senate action on essential legislation in the lame-duck session. There may not be another chance before 2012, and maybe not then if Democrats do nothing now.