Ideas. Action. Results.

Alice Rivlin – Pete Domenici: The Senator of a Bygone Era

Politico Magazine

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Pete Domenici was the type of senator who makes Americans proud of their democratic government. He loved being a senator because it gave him a chance to craft legislation that improved people’s lives in visible ways. He was a partisan Republican and an enthusiastic New Mexican, but he understood that making effective policy for this big, diverse country requires respecting other people’s views and working across party lines, as well as ideological and geographic barriers. And he cared deeply about the Senate as an institution and about enforcing its rules to make legislation happen in an orderly way.

I first met Domenici at a Senate Budget Committee hearing early in his Senate career. I was testifying as director of the new Congressional Budget Office and was immediately impressed with the committee’s then-junior member. He didn’t look like the senator from central casting—in 38 years in the Senate he never did. He favored slightly rumpled brown tweed jackets with a Navajo silver slide on his Bolo tie. He always looked like what he was: The son of Italian immigrants, he played semi-pro baseball, taught high school math and became a lawyer before entering city politics. He became mayor of Albuquerque and, in 1972, won election to the United States Senate. I knew as soon as I met him that Domenici was smart—and comfortable with hard issues and complicated details. He did his homework and asked good questions. He cared about getting budget policy right…

When Domenici retired from the Senate in 2009, he joined the Bipartisan Policy Center, the think tank where he and I jointly chaired a Debt Reduction Task Force. There, we produced a long-term bipartisan plan for restraining the growth of the national debt through sensible policies that both parties could support, and worked for bipartisan consensus on health reform. Alas, the growing dysfunction in Washington frustrated his hopes.