WASHINGTON – New Mexico lawmakers stepped into the swirl of Congress’ first day Thursday, with two members getting sworn in, Rep. Steve Pearce casting a vote against the speaker of the House and Sen. Tom Udall introducing legislation to reform the filibuster.
Shortly after 10 a.m. in New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat from Albuquerque, started her first term as New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District representative, while Martin Heinrich, a Democrat who held the 1st District seat for the past four years, replaced 30-year Democratic veteran Jeff Bingaman in the Senate.
Both New Mexico lawmakers said they were eager to get to work in the newly convened 113th Congress.
“It’s really exciting,” Lujan Grisham told the Journal as she walked from her new office in the Cannon Building to the House chamber for her swearing-in.
“We have to deal with sequestration, and we’ve got to make sure we’re talking about entitlement reform in a meaningful and balanced way, because so much of that translates to jobs,” Lujan Grisham said. “That has to be the focus.”
Lujan Grisham said she was especially enthusiastic about her appointment to the Senate Agriculture Committee, which has particular relevance to rural states such as New Mexico.
Shortly after his swearing-in on the Senate floor by Vice President Joe Biden, Heinrich said the day was “a little surreal.”
Heinrich said he looks forward to digging into his work on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources, Intelligence and Joint Economic Committees.
“It’s the culmination of two years of hard work, and I have to say, walking down to the Senate floor to get sworn in by the vice president and having Sens. Bingaman and Udall there was really nice,” Heinrich told the Journal at a reception in the Library of Congress shortly after he took the oath of office.
Pearce, the veteran conservative from New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District and the only Republican in the state’s congressional delegation, was one of 10 GOP members to vote against Speaker John Boehner’s re-election as leader of the House.
Pearce, who is entering his fifth term, told the Journal he was disappointed in Boehner’s handling of the tax portion of congressional debate over the fiscal crisis. Boehner supported increasing tax rates to 1990s levels on income over $1 million last month, but was unable to persuade the GOP caucus, including Pearce, to accept the deal.
Pearce’s vote marks a significant shift in his relationship with Boehner, whom he has generally supported during Boehner’s tenure as speaker.
“Congressman Pearce voted for a new voice to represent the House in negotiations going forward,” Pearce spokesman Eric Layer said in a statement. “He believes that Speaker Boehner is taking us in the wrong direction. Congressman Pearce was unable to support the tax plan brought before the House on Tuesday and feels that he is no longer able to support the negotiator.”
Across the Capitol, Udall introduced a resolution to reform Senate rules in a way that would blunt the power of the filibuster, or the threat of endless debate to derail legislation. Udall has long contended that current Senate rules and endless threats of filibusters by the minority are crippling Senate business.
The proposed “constitutional option” to change the Senate rules can only be enacted on the first day of a new Congress, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he would stop the clock on the Senate calendar until Jan. 22 to allow for more debate. The move will also give Udall and his allies time to lobby Senate fence-sitters to support the resolution. Udall currently has commitments for 48 of the 51 votes needed to change Senate rules. Heinrich supports Udall’s effort.
A faction of senators led by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., has introduced a counterproposal to change the rules that is not as far-reaching as Udall’s. It’s unclear which proposal will garner the most support or if either will succeed. Senate Republicans, who are in the minority, generally oppose the plans.
The Udall bill would clear a path to debate by eliminating filibusters on motions to proceed to debate, but still provide two hours of debate on the motion.
It would force senators who filibuster to actually speak on the floor, instead of simply threatening a filibuster to derail bills. In addition, it would reduce debate on nominations from 30 hours to 2 hours, except for Supreme Court Justices for whom the current 30 hours would remain intact.
The Udall proposal would also eliminate filibuster of motions to establish House-Senate conference committees that hash out differences in House and Senate-passed bills.
“We have the power to change the Senate from being a graveyard for good ideas, to an institution that can respond effectively to the challenges facing our nation,” Udall said Thursday in a statement. “Our proposal is simple, limited and fair.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal