Stephens, a state representative whose district includes parts of Colorado Springs and the home of the U.S. Air Force Academy, scalded Udall for voting for a budget agreement that includes a paring of benefits to military retirees and later sending out a press release to showcase his efforts to undo the cuts.
“The Senator had a chance to speak out against these unfair reductions before he voted for them, but he remained silent and followed orders to vote for them without any objections. He let down the fighting men and women who have sacrificed the most for our country,” she said in a press release Thursday.
A spokesman for Udall did not return a voicemail message for comment.
Udall, an incumbent who is up for re-election this year, defended his vote last month for the budget agreement as a step to achieve larger goals, such as reducing the federal deficit and lifting some budget caps.
“(A)s with most deals that meet in the middle, this budget agreement is not perfect. There’s always room for improvement,” he said in a press release.
Udall called for reversing the reductions in veterans’ benefits and noted his work with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to restore them.
“Rather than balance the budget in part on the backs of our country’s veterans, let’s close offshore tax loopholes or end corporate giveaways that don’t create good-paying American jobs,” Udall wrote.
On Dec. 18, a majority of U.S. senators approved a two-year budget deal that included reductions in benefits to federal workers, including military retirees younger than 62. The vote was 64-35. Nine Republicans crossed the aisle to vote with the 55 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, including Udall and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).
Thursday night, Senators backed a $1.1 trillion dollar deal by a vote of 72-36 for a 1.1 trillion dollar deal.
Seth Masket, chairman of the political science department at the University of Denver, said both Udall and Stephens have sought to straddle controversial issues. “They’re trying to do what they can do and trying not to alienate people in the process,” Masket said.
Stephens was majority leader when the state House of Representatives voted for the state-insurance exchange and helped create it. Conservative rivals have criticized her role.
Yet Stephens’ criticism of Udall highlights the peril that incumbents such as the senator must withstand, Masket said.
“You have an enormous budget bill that on balance is what the party agreed to, but if you get into the details, there’s a lot of minor items that members of political parties don’t like. It basically makes an incumbent vulnerable on a big bill. In this case, Udall’s voted for an issue, but along came another issue,” he added.