On Politics, Law, and Elected Office: Jeff Bingaman, Former United States Senator From New Mexico, In Conversation With Professor Pamela S. Karlan


Publish Date:
November 16, 2017
  • Karlan, Pamela S.
Stanford Lawyer
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THESE DAYS, JEFF BINGAMAN, JD ’68, DOESN’T MISS THE SENATE MUCH—OR ENVY HIS FORMER COLLEAGUES STILL THERE. He was ready to retire in 2013 after 30 years as a senator from New Mexico. It was time, and the place had changed.

“It would be difficult to get much done there now, I think. I watch what’s going on and I don’t see a whole lot that I could accomplish,” he said in the interview that follows.

KARLAN Now is an especially great time to be talking. The U.S. Senate has been called “the world’s greatest deliberative body.” How does that description fit with your experience?

BINGAMAN I don’t think that the label really applies very well to the Senate now and didn’t even during much of the time I was there. There wasn’t near as much deliberation as some observers might think.

KARLAN What’s changed, and to what do you attribute the changes?

BINGAMAN My view is that the deterioration of the function of the Senate in recent years has been the result of three different factors. One is the use of the threat to shut down the government, and the actual shutting of the government. That began in 1995, when Gingrich was speaker, and it continues to the present time. It’s now commonplace to see articles asking “What’s going to happen when the continuing resolution expires?” and “Are they going to be able to keep the government functioning?” So that was not the case for the first 12 or so years that I was in the Senate. The second is the threat of defaulting on the national debt. That’s another major problem that has added to the dysfunction in the Congress. That sort of gained momentum earlier and it finally came to a head in 2011 when we had a downgrading of the credit rating of Treasury bills and federal lending. The third is the abuse of the filibuster in the Senate. Those are the three factors that significantly increased the dysfunction of the Congress and the Senate while I was there.

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