Bingaman: Water project justified investment

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is serving his fifth term in Congress and is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Following Tuesday’s Senate field hearing at Clovis-Carver Public Library, he answered a few questions for Freedom Newspapers.

Q: You came to Clovis for the field hearing regarding the Ute Water Project. What new information did you gather, and where do you go from here?
A: I think the hearing was useful, but I can’t say there was new information. I think what became clear is we really have a disconnect between the level of concern and the commitment and the willingness to move ahead by the local leaders, the state and the Bureau of Reclamation. It’s been dragging its feet, it’s been unwilling to work with the state and the local community to accelerate the process, so that’s what we’re going to have to overcome.
Q: The cost of the project is currently $432 million, roughly $8,000 per resident assuming 50,000 people benefit. How do you convince the other 98 senators and President Bush this is worthwhile?
A: It’s not as if we’re going in and saying we want $432 million in one year. We do increments. All funding we do is a question of priority. Is it important to meet the water needs of rural parts of our country? Many of us who represent the West think it is. This is a project that will serve the needs of this community and eastern New Mexico for a long time. When you advertise it over the period of time it will be used, I think it’s a justified investment.

Q: Getting funds will likely go through the next president. Whose administration will give the project the best chance?
A: It’s hard to say. I think, clearly, Bill Richardson will. He’s aware of the needs of rural areas of the West. I’d be somewhat optimistic we could persuade several of the folks on the Democratic side that this should be a priority.

What’s your take on the current top-tier Democrats? We’ll consider Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Richardson.
A: I think any would be a good president. I’m supporting Gov. Richardson. He’s a friend and I’ve campaigned with him many times over the last 20-25 years. He obviously has an extremely strong resume, both in his work as governor and his work when he was in Congress, the Cabinet and the United Nations.
I serve with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Both of them are capable people and well respected within the Senate.
Q: Any Republicans you like?
A: I haven’t paid as much attention to their primary, and frankly I don’t know who’s likely to emerge. I think (former Arkansas) Gov. (Mike) Huckabee has a record of accomplishment. Tommy Thompson, when he was governor of Wisconsin, I think he had a record of accomplishment, along with his time in the Cabinet.
Q: Let’s change the category to current U.S. presidents. President Bush has threatened to veto spending bills that go above his requests. Any chance that could adversely affect Cannon in military spending bills?
A: I’d be surprised if he vetoed the Department of Defense appropriations bill.

Q: Even if it went over?
A: Yes. The president’s budget and the budget Congress has adopted are about 1 percent different in quantity. The president has taken criticism from some conservative elements in the Republican Party for not doing enough to constrain spending. I think some of that criticism may be justified. I think he’s now determined since Congress is now in the hands of Democrats, this is an opportunity for him to reestablish his (legitimacy) as a conservative by vetoing a bunch of spending bills. I think we’re likely to see him veto some spending bills that are close to what he requested.

Q: We were originally discussing Cannon, so let’s go back to that. Does everything look on point?
A: It does. I think the Air Force is doing all that needs to be done to prepare. I’m very much looking forward to it and hope I’ll be able to be here for that ceremony.

— Compiled by Freedom Newspapers Staff Writer Kevin Wilson and edited for length and clarity.