iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Wade Norris

Wade Norris

Posted: January 28, 2010 04:56 PM

Did Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet Forget He Has a Primary?

What's Your Reaction:

Last year Rachel Maddow attacked a group of Democratic Senators, including CO Sen. Michael Bennet, for their opposition to their own President's agenda and called them "Conservadems"


Ms. Maddow:

(the coalition's focus) "...is on reducing federal spending. (at a time when the stimulus was being proposed to save the country from another Great Depression)
According to Roll Call the Conservadems are also trying to water down the President's climate change legislation"

When Michael Bennet was declared a Conservadem by Ms. Maddow, supporters of Michael Bennet declared Ms. Maddow's attacks as 'baseless and without merit'.

Question: Has Senator Bennet done anything in this past year of serving as Colorado's junior Senator to disprove that he is a "Conservadem"?

One would think that a newly appointed Senator with a Primary contest on the horizon would try to make the safe, left to center votes on issues the democratic base would care about, in order to reduce opportunities to be attacked from his primary opponent - in this case, Andrew Romanoff.


So let's look at Senator Bennet's actions and votes this past year.

Let's look at the attacks Ms. Maddow stated - on watering down climate change legislation, Michael Bennet has done the following:

First, Bennet joined up with 8 other senators, including 3 Republicans, to pen a letter to Senator Boxer to include natural gas as a central part of climate legislation:

"Any Senate energy and climate bill should provide statutory guidance to harness this important resource and stimulate and support even more activity in this sector of our nation's diverse energy portfolio," states the letter from Sens. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), David Vitter (R-La.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska).


Natural gas provides a fifth of U.S. electric power and also powers some vehicles, such as municipal buses. Its lower carbon emissions -- along with new U.S. supplies available through increased shale gas development -- are prompting calls to expand the fuel's role in climate policy."

Natural gas is often touted as 'clean energy' but, in fact, it is still a pollution-emitting source of energy. Furthermore, the extraction of Natural Gas is a touchy subject in Colorado - where our Western Slope Citizens have been engaged in a knock down - drag out fight against gas companies who have drilled and are drilling in ways that contaminate their precious water supply.

The communities -- the city of Grand Junction and the neighboring town of Palisade -- began by making their concerns clear: drilling is important, but protecting the water supply is paramount.


"Our feeling all along was that you shouldn't drill in our watershed. It's the last resort," said Tim Sarmo, the town manager for Palisade, who, together with the city of Grand Junction, fought the development. "Shouldn't someone say these are areas of higher priority, greater vulnerability?"

Would you drink this?


This is the type of issue that motivates a concerned voter to come out to primary elections.


Next, Bennet was part of a group of 14 Senators who penned a letter to ask that climate legislation not tax or limit emissions from electric utilities that rely heavily on coal - one of the most polluting energy sources in use.

We urge you to ensure that emission allowances allocated to the electricity sector - and thus, electricity consumers -- be fully based on emissions as the appropriate and equitable way to provide transition assistance in a greenhouse gas-regulated economy.

Translation:

Their demand is a basic violation of a core principle of environmental economics -- that companies should pay based on their pollution...
The argument that the most "fair and effective," "appropriate and equitable" way to help the constituents of their states is to increase subsidies to coal-powered utilities is frankly absurd.

What's wrong with this picture? Well, for the other 13 Dems who wrote this, it is a step backwards away from changing how we power the country, and actually increases pollution. What's more, this type of letter could have easily been written to propose increased subsidies for wind turbine development or solar power, which provides new jobs in a green energy sector at a time when new jobs are not easy to find.

The other problem for Senator Bennet? Most of the "Green" or "Enviro" voters are exclusively located in the Democratic party. They are also typically one issue voters, 'how did you vote on environmental issues?'

They will be showing up at the primary to vote.


Next - let's look at the 'fiscal responsibility' aspect of being labeled a 'Conservadem' -
In November Bennet signed a letter to call on support for a 'Fiscal Responsibility Commission.'

He then voted this past week along with 52 other Senators for the creation of that commission. What would be the downside of such a commission?

...it would create budget legislation, including deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare. As Conrad has written the proposal, the Senate could only have simple majority (upperdown) votes on this legislation--no filibusters. It would hand over a huge amount of Congressional authority to an unelected, unaccountable commission, all in the name of "fiscal responsibility."

(hattip to mcjoan)


Here is what Senator Bennet said about the bill:

(from a press release from Michael Amodeo Press Secretary U.S. Senator Michael Bennet [CO])

When my oldest daughter Caroline was born in 1999, our Nation's debt stood at about $5.6 trillion. Our country welcomed her with an unpaid bill totaling $20,000--the amount every American would have to pay up in order to balance the budget....


By Caroline's 10th birthday last year, the national debt stood at about $11 trillion--double what it was when she was born. She owed about $36,000 at this point. I would have to say that is a lousy birthday present for any 10-year-old....

I urge support for the deficit commission proposal. We need 60 Senators to stand for fiscal responsibility. Let's not allow this chance for bipartisan breakthrough to pass us by. Vote yes on Conrad-Gregg.

First of all, this bill is cosponsored by Judd Gregg - the Republican Senator who turned down Obama's request to be Commerce Secretary, after he sought out the post. He later said he disagreed with the stimulus package, which ended up keeping us out of a great depression, saved the banks and our auto sector. By the way, Gregg once voted to abolish the Commerce department.

But back to what Senator Bennet said: The deficit was recently at its lowest under Bill Clinton in 1999, when, along with Republicans, there were strict limits on spending and upon his leaving the White House, there was actually a budget surplus.

There are times when balancing the budget makes sense. That was one of those times, seeing as how unemployment was very low, the economy was booming and the middle class was thriving - even as the Republicans opposed his taxes on people earning over $200,000 per year.

But let's look at now.

Why did our deficits go through the roof? Bush repealed the taxes on the wealthiest Americans and started a war on two fronts and borrowed the money to do so.

Should we, now, when unemployment is at 10% or even higher, the foreclosures on housing is at an all time high, and we are just escaping a possible depression - is that the time to enact a commission that proposes cuts to Medicare and Social Security? I think we can wait for sunnier times to start cutting these programs. Is this the time to call for a "bipartisan breakthrough" when the Republicans have opposed every single measure President Obama has tried to do as President, and he himself in fact has been chastised for diluting his agenda by seeking out at least one Republican like Olympia Snowe, just so it could have a bipartisanship asterisk?

I don't hold much hope out for bipartisanship if that means we get nothing in return. In fact, a speech about increased funding for these programs is what I would expect my Democratic Senator to say, not cuts and bipartisanship.

In another 'fiscally responsible' move, Senator Bennet sided with banks over individual citizens by voting to kill the "Cramdown" bill.

The U.S. Senate rejected a measure that would let bankruptcy judges cut mortgage terms to help borrowers avoid foreclosure, a victory for banks and credit unions that said the legislation would increase loan costs.


The proposed "cram-down" amendment to a housing bill was defeated today in a 51-45 vote, with 12 Democrats among the 51 opponents.

"These bankers who brought us into this crisis are literally shunning and stiff-arming the people who are facing foreclosure," said Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, sponsor of the legislation and the chamber's second-ranking Democrat.

Finally, there is one area that Bennet has excelled in differentiating himself from even his Conservadem colleagues: Wall Street.

First, his opposition to Wall Street reforms.

From the Denver Post:

Bennet last week joined Republicans in warning of "unintended consequences" in the sweeping, 1,100-page bill developed by Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., which establishes a new federal super-regulator as well as a separate agency to protect consumers.


The issue is likely to prove politically sticky for Bennet...

Bennet's approach to the bill is informed by his own experience -- he earned millions restructuring bankrupt companies for billionaire Phil Anschutz -- but critics also point to the fact that Wall Street firms are among his most significant political donors.

Along with this article in October 2009:

In less then six months, Colorado Democrat has received $401,000 from campaign donors linked to a combination of hedge funds, securities firms, insurance companies and real estate interests. Bennet's take is bested only by four senators, including Harry Reid, the powerful Senate majority leader, and Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.


Bennet, 44, sits on the Banking Committee as well, as the panel's most junior member. But he is also a millionaire former businessman familiar with the world of high-wire finance -- the kind of lawmaker donors may see as a potential ally as the committee rewrites the rules under which much of the financial sector will work.

But if those factors have combined to create a financial boon for Colorado's junior senator, they also present him with a political challenge: How to benefit from Wall Street's largess without appearing too cozy to his patrons.

This issue may be the toughest one for Bennet - even the President has turned his populist rhetoric against Wall Street, because of the anger felt by many voters - even Republicans, for the huge bonuses the Wall Street and Banking CEOs are receiving after being bailed out.

There are two questions here:

1) Is Michael Bennet a Conservadem?
Watering down climate legislation, check.
Fiscal responsibility at any costs, even to social programs, check.

I will say that these 'centrist' letters, speeches, and votes may position him quite well for a general election this fall, but I have another question.

2)Did Senator Bennet forget he has to compete in a Democratic Primary?

(crossposted at Square State)