Udall explains his split with Bennet, vote for fiscal cliff compromise

DENVER — Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, who faces reelection in 2014, tells FOX31 Denver that he decided to support the bipartisan compromise passed earlier this week because it was simply better than the alternative of allowing the nation to go off the so-called fiscal cliff.

Udall wasn’t alone.

To the contrary, he was part of rare bipartisan majority that propelled the Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 through the Senate on a vote of 89-8.

But in Colorado, Udall’s vote has received more attention than it otherwise might have because his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Michael Bennet, was one of those few senators who voted against the bill.

“The whole point of this fiscal cliff was to force the Congress to address our deficit,” Bennet told FOX31 Denver on Wednesday. “And the end result here was a bill that didn’t have any real deficit reduction and I couldn’t support that.”

Conservative bloggers, looking to weaken Udall for 2014, have argued that Bennet’s vote has made Udall, who’s sought to carve out a reputation as a moderate, look like the typical Democratic partisan they want voters to believe he is.

In an interview from Washington Friday, Udall told FOX31 that, like Bennet, he’s focused on addressing the nation’s ballooning deficit; however, he wasn’t prepared to vote against the legislation passed this week just because it didn’t include any spending cuts.

“Sen. Bennet and I have a great relationship,” Udall told FOX31 Denver. “He and I are very good friends. I admire and respect Sen. Bennet and I understand why he drew the conclusion that he drew, but reasonable men can disagree and I disagreed.

“I thought I couldn’t face the possibility that I’d wake up on Jan. 2 and the economy had begun to slip back into a recession, the markets were tanking, middle class families were going to see a $2,000 tax increase and that the Production Tax Credit for wind energy hadn’t been extended.”

Knowing the importance of the wind PTC to Colorado companies like Vestas, Udall made a point of supporting the extension of the tax credit and even made 27 speeches about it on the Senate floor.

“So, for me, although it was an imperfect bill, one I wouldn’t have written, I decided to support it, and 88 other senators joined me.”

Udall said he hopes that Congress won’t wait until the last minute — the debt ceiling will have to be raised some time early this summer, lest the government default on its bills — to come to an agreement on real spending cuts.

“We have a lot of work left to do,” Udall said. “We’ve done some of the easy things in strengthening our economic situation, but we’ve still got to do the hard things.”

Bennet, who as the new chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee will be resopnsible for getting Udall and 19 other Democratic colleagues reelected next year, has been lauded for his vote by the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd and even by GOP Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora, who told FOX31 Denver he was “impressed” by the vote.

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, had a different view, telling FOX31 Denver Bennet’s vote was calculated, not courageous.

“Bennet now finds himself in the position of being the chief partisan of the U.S. Senate,” Gardner said, referencing Bennet’s recent elevation to chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, the caucus’s campaign arm.

“He’s now in charge of electing Democrats and bashing Republicans in the Senate and he needs to appear to be somewhat independent. With this 89-to-8 vote, he had an opportunity to step out of lockstep with his party and attempt to portray some independence without any real political consequences.”