Sen. Udall defends stands on Obamacare, Keystone pipeline, energy

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Photo: Sen. Mark UdallMark Udall is fighting to keep his job in one of a handful of closely-watched U.S. Senate races around the country. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to take control of the Senate; Udall's seat is a pivotal one.

Udall, an Eldorado Springs Democrat, was elected to the Senate in 2008 and spent a decade prior to that as a Colorado congressman.

For weeks, CPR News has extended invitations to Udall and to his Republican challenger, Cory Gardner, for interviews. CPR is still waiting for the Gardner campaign to schedule a time for an interview. Update 10/27: "Colorado Matters" produced this piece about Gardner's campaign after it continued to ignore interview requests.

Last weekend, at a church in Denver's Montbello neighborhood, Udall sat down with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner and discussed a range of issues, including his unwavering support for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Gardner has repeatedly voted for measures to repeal the act and has been critical that 335,000 health insurance cancellations were issued to people with individual or small group coverage in 2013. The figure is in a January letter from Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar to Gardner.

“The intent of the law was that you could keep your plan if you like it,” Udall said. “I didn’t count on insurance companies not keeping faith with that promise, if you will," he said. "As you know, nine out of 10 people who received one of those letters has been able to keep their policy.”

He cited statistics from the Salazar letter. She wrote that 92 percent of policy holders were “offered the opportunity of early renewal” -- an option that expired in January.

Regarding the economy, Gardner supports construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. In a debate in Denver on Monday, Gardner said the pipeline would create “thousands” of jobs in Colorado, according to Politico.

Udall, in his Colorado Matters interview, said the pipeline is more likely to mean a “few hundred” permanent jobs.

“Very few of those jobs would have much to do with Colorado,” Udall added.

The federal government's Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone project, released in January, estimates that 42,000 jobs would be created nationally during construction of the pipeline. Once operational, the project, which spans Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, would generate just 50 jobs, according to the statement.

Udall also answered questions about the economy. The gap between the richest and poorest Americans widened between 2010 and 2013. The wealthiest 10 percent of families saw their incomes rise 10 percent on average, while families in the bottom 40 percent saw their incomes decline, according to the most-recent Fed survey of consumer finances. Take-home pay for the middle- and upper-classes remained flat with no recovery of losses incurred during the recession.

Udall said the economic measures he supports include equal pay for women; a measure in the Senate that would allow student loans to be re-financed; and tax credits intended to keep domestic companies from moving overseas. He also supports raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from the current $7.25.

“By the way the last president to increase the minimum wage -- and we do this about every 10 years -- was George W. Bush,” Udall said. “So this, historically, isn’t a Republican or Democratic idea. It’s an American idea.”

Udall reiterated his long-standing support for renewable energy, making arguments for natural gas that is regulated for methane emissions and small-scale nuclear plants that he said could replace power plants that use coal.