Sen. Tom Udall spent much of Wednesday in Clovis as part of a three-day swing through eastern New Mexico that concludes Thursday morning in Santa Rosa.
In Clovis he toured the Veterans Administration Clinic and Cannon Air Force Base. He also stopped by the Clovis News Journal to answer a series of questions about local and national concerns.
Questions and answers have been edited for clarity:
This Congress has a low approval rating and has been criticized for not getting things done. What specifically are you doing to change that?
I get up every morning with the idea that I need to find people on the other side of the isle to work with. And, if you look at my record across the board, it’s one of working on issues that New Mexicans really care about and in a bipartisan way.
As state Attorney General I was really aggressive on drinking and driving. We passed a major package. When I went to Washington we’ve worked on bills to improve it from the federal perspective.
So we’re always trying to find Democrats and Republicans. We do that in our social time afterwards, after the Congress has let out, we don’t have committee hearings. I have a group … two Republicans, two Democrats, we eat dinner with each other. This is Sen. (Mike) Johanns from Nebraska, Sen. (Al) Franken from Minnesota, Sen. (Mike) Enzi from Wyoming and the spouses. And we all get together and try to work through issues that sometimes that as you noted Washington isn’t very good at working through.
So it’s a major effort to just try to break the mold that’s going on back there. And I would agree with you there’s dysfunction. It’s broken. One of my major efforts is to get the Senate to work better because the rules are being utilized in a way that holds everything up.
There’s nothing in the Constitution about 60 votes to pass a bill and yet we’re down to 60 votes on everything. So we’re trying to work through the reform on the rules and all the other areas that are holding things up.
Cannon Air Force Base is a major contributor to the area economy. How do you see the future of Cannon and what are you doing to ensure the base remains here?
Well, first of all when I was in the House, we faced the prospect of Cannon being shut down. And we worked with the entire community. We worked with Randy Harris at the time, the president of the local bank here who was heading up Operation; Keep Cannon. We worked at the federal level. We had the governor working at the state level and then we had all of the local elected leaders.
We really pushed hard to get a new mission. It (Cannon) was on the (BRAC) list. It was on the chopping block.
Now we have this great Air Force Special Operations mission, which is going to be there for many years into the future. There are only two (such) bases in the country; Air Force Special Operations.
How do we keep it? I’m on the appropriations committee that deals with all of the issues of funding the government. We put an additional $34 million in the bill this year for all the construction projects. We put major money into the housing that’s going on. There’s a whole housing issue and we’re trying to push that forward. I’m going out later (Wednesday) to meet with the wing commander and get briefed by him on what else they need help on. We’re pushing hard on it.
You don’t believe it’s (Cannon) going to show up on BRAC?
I don’t … at this point in time there is not a proposal for a BRAC. We’re just going to have to look at what kind of proposal comes forward.
I mean my belief is we should be … if we’re shutting bases, we should start with looking at overseas. We have many, many, many more bases overseas than we do in the United States. I believe we could do some consolidation there and not hurt our national security.
We ought to be keeping our bases here. The three Air Force bases that New Mexico has take advantage of really incredible air space. Always you’re going to be wanting to have this air space to train pilots. And in fact, Germany and Singapore come from way far away to train here also. So there’s a good training partnership there with the Air Force and other countries.
How familiar are you with the dispute going on now with the Joint Land Use Study issue?
That’s one of the things I’m going to talk to the wing commander about. But you’re talking about the expansion area and how the county and city are working on it. I want to get updated on that with the new wing commander and see where he’s at, but we’re happy to work and try to get resources thrown at that.
There’s concern on the part of landowners because of the possibility of Tres Amigas and them wanting to erect wind farms. Concern that Cannon or the Air Force wants to limit the height of these wind machines.
We have a lot of things we need to be doing. I mean trying to get clean energy up and running is important thing. The national security mission at Cannon. But I think we can all work together to try and resolve those issues. That’s what we’ve been able to do in the past.
Water is a big concern. Do you believe in the Ute Water Project, is it realistic and what are you doing to help obtain the estimated $500 million in federal money to complete the project?
Of course I believe in it. I’ve been on the Ute Water Project from the beginning when I started in the House 14 years ago.
We did the initial studies that then developed into the proposed legislation. We passed the legislation. And now the big effort is to get it funded.
We’ve put in the bill that passed the appropriation’s committee $650,000 to get it going. There’s another pot of money, another $25 million that’s been approved that they can apply for to get additional dollars.
So the key is keeping the collation together. I mean we’ve got a good coalition of counties and cities. They’re contributing. The state’s contributing. The federal government’s going to contribute.
We’ve gotten $2 or $3 million from the federal government. We’re talking about way more money than that.
Oh sure. Well, that’s why we put the $25 million so that they can apply. They’re starting work. It’s going to be in phases. We have water projects all over New Mexico. I mean we’ve had water settlements that require projects. So we have a lot of funding needs out there in terms of water projects.
Could you put a realistic time frame on when, say in the next 10 years maybe, that this (federal) money will become available to finish the Ute Project?
I think we’re just going to keep pushing as much as we can to get the resources there that need to be put into it. It’s hard to tell.
You know, if we get a budget agreement in a couple of months and we’re headed on a good solid path, we’re going to have additional dollars to put into it. Right now we’re in a bit of a budget stalemate and until we can see what the funding’s going to be the next year, the next five years, it’s hard to tell.
But I’m committed to it. I believe in it. I think it’s a good thing for eastern New Mexico and I think it’s a good thing for each of the communities that have bought into it and are supporting it at the local level.
Obamacare. Key provisions have already been delayed a year. Do you think it will become a reality or will there be another movement in Congress to kill it?
There’s a constant movement in Congress to kill it. I think we’ve taken 55 or 60 votes just since it’s been passed and put into law to completely repeal it.
I think the better approach is the try to find the ways it needs to be fixed. As far as the delays, I think the delays are an effort to make it right. I mean this is big push to bring 30 million on a nationwide basis. Thirty million new people into the health care system. In New Mexico it’s 400,000 people.
If you’re bringing that many new people in there are going to be a lot of changes. There are going to be challenges that we face.
The effort to put off on the business side for a year the application of the Affordable Care Act, I think is a good thing. Because they’re listening to businesses. Businesses have come to them and said ‘Well, we need a little more time to do this and that.’ And they evaluated it. They just didn’t give them a blank check. They said tell us what you’re going to do and how long you need.
So, that’s what they’re working through right now. I’m the first one to say this is not perfect. This is going to have problems. What I’m searching for is Republicans who are in the Senate who will work with me to fix it as problems arise and problems come up.
— Compiled by CMI Projects Editor Robin Fornoff