New Senator Meets the Political Realities of a Vote

Posted March 5, 2009 at 12:58pm

Torn between his prospective 2010 election and his desire to help Senate Democratic leaders pass a $410 billion omnibus spending bill on Wednesday, freshman Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) did the only thing he could do — he waited.

In a case that illustrates the political perils faced by Senators up for election this cycle, Bennet said he ended up voting for two GOP-sponsored amendments to strike controversial earmarks from the spending package, but only after it was clear they would be defeated.

“I think a lot of these amendments were being offered … for no other purpose than to delay passage of the omnibus bill and to create a record for people that are voting on them for their campaign,— said Bennet. “So when you [vote] you think, obviously, what the objective really is here, which is to get this bill passed and along the way, what you can and can’t support based on, you know, what stories people are going to tell when you’re running for office back in Colorado.

“I mean, there’s nothing mystical or surprising about any of this stuff.—

Both Bennet and his home state freshman colleague, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), waited until the end of a particularly close vote on stripping earmarks linked to a lobbying firm under federal investigation before casting their votes.

But Udall, who was elected to a six-year term in November, voted against stripping the earmarks, while Bennet, who must go before voters in less than two years to keep his seat, voted for it. Bennet was appointed to fill the seat vacated by now-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Bennet is expected to run in the 2010 special election to secure a full six-year term.

“You could say that, you know, one of the reasons why our votes were different on that stuff has to do with when either of us is running. That probably wouldn’t be wrong,— Bennet acknowledged.

But he said he was willing to take the political hit and vote against it if he had to, which was why he waited until the end to cast his vote.

“I just don’t think these times are times we can be distracted by that,— said Bennet of the political considerations. “So sure, people look to see at the end [of the vote] whether or not the amendment is actually going to pass because if it does pass, it means the bill has to go back to the House and we may have to start all over again. The American people can’t afford that.—