Tag Archives: MT-Sen

Monitor Senator Max Baucus

With Democrats only enjoying a one seat majority in the U.S. senate, a single Democratic defection would allow Vice President Dick Cheney to cast a tie-breaking vote. For Republicans, the number one target to undermine Harry Reid’s leadership is Senator Max Baucus (D-MT). Even the conservative New Republic wrote, “What Baucus does is use his influence as the top Democrat on the Finance Committee to systematically undercut his party and enable George W. Bush’s most egregious domestic legislation.”

Yesterday’s Washington Post has a story, Democrats to Push Pocketbook Issues where Sen. Baucus hinted at siding with big corporations to undermine incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Many in the party want to change Medicare’s new drug benefit so the government can negotiate prices directly with pharmaceutical companies. Incoming Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) remains unsure. “We need to be very honest in getting the facts” about whether such a switch would be helpful, he said.

Would lowering prescription drug prices be helpful? For you and I, yes. But Max Baucus is wondering whether triangulating against Democrats will help his re-election campaign.

Policy experts agree that Senator Max Baucus deserves most of the blame for the Medicare disaster. Almost three years ago, Matthew Yglesias wrote an article for the American Prospect on Max Baucus and Medicare, titled Bad Max:

Fellow Democrats were even more aggrieved, however, by Baucus’ behavior during the Medicare battle with which Congress closed last year’s session. The Senate initially passed a compromise bill with support from Republicans and some liberal Democrats like Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), while the House put forward a much more partisan piece of legislation on a narrow vote. A conference committee composed of members of both chambers was convened, but the Republican leadership, in a sharp break from precedent, said that though Democrats could be officially appointed to the committee, none would be invited to the meetings where the substantive negotiations would take place and the actual bill be written. None, that is, except for Baucus and the similarly cooperative John Breaux of Louisiana, who will retire at the end of the year.

By lending this farce a veneer of bipartisan credibility, Baucus and Breaux essentially denied the Democrats what was not only their best chance of defeating the bill in question but the party’s last hope of putting a stop to a long string of Republican provocations aimed at reducing the minority party to window-dressing status.

As Norman Ornstein, a congressional analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute told The Washington Post in December, Democratic senators with any concern for the viability of the party would have said, “[I]f you don’t let in Tom Daschle [D-S.D.] — our leader, elected by the Senate to be in the room — then we’re not going in the room” and insisted that the Republicans at least abide by the rules.

Notably, Baucus’ behavior has drawn condemnation not just from liberals but from centrist Democrats outside of government who can normally be found extolling the virtues of such willingness to work across party lines.

That last line is key. It is The New Republic calling for Max Baucus to be stripped of seniority on the finance committee. It is Montana Democratic leaders who are having the conversations about a 2008 primary campaign to hopefully at least hold Baucus on major votes and if not be positioned for a change. Sirota explained:

For years, the grassroots in Montana has felt compelled to keep quiet about Baucus no matter what he has done on any issue. But things are different now. The successful Schweitzer 2004 and Tester 2006 campaigns have people in a proactive mood, meaning they are ready to strongly support Baucus if he’s serious about working-class issues, and  ready to voice opposition if he becomes Senator K Street in the new Congress.

Indeed, Montana Democrats chose populist Jon Tester over DLC Baucus wannabe John Morrison by a 26 pt landslide in this year’s primary. But the real problem for Baucus is comparing the primary election results for US Senate in the 2002 and 2006 primary.

2002 Midterm: Max Baucus, incumbent Senator, unopposed: 66,713 votes
2006 Midterm: Jon Tester, grossly outspent: 65,757

That is less than a thousand vote difference which speaks volumes about the lack of energy for Baucus and the clear preference for populist candidates in Montana. And Baucus has been simply awful on ecomonic issues, as William Greider wrote about Max Baucus in a piece titled, Senator Sellout

Yet leading the rush to appeasement is Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee and the party’s number-one Quisling. Baucus tips over easily to outrageous deals with Republican tax-cutters. Back in 2001, he sold out on Bush’s reactionary tax reduction package. Now he is working to organize a rump group of Democratic senators for “compromise” on the estate tax. That is, give the Republican sponsors most of what they seek and, in the process, cripple possibilities for the future. […]

The second great task for grassroots Dems is to confront the party leaders on their own cowardly acquiescence. Why do they allow this one disloyal rogue to undercut the party’s position and yet escape any punitive consequences? If Democrats should win back Senate control this year, Baucus will become Finance Committee Chairman again–free do more outrageous tax favors for his wealthy pals.

MyDD political analyst Chris Bowers chronicled:

Here is some history on Max Baucus:
*Energy Bill: Yea
*Bankruptcy Bill: Yea
*Medicare Bill: Yea
*War Vote: Yea
*2001 Tax Cuts: Yea

When the chips are down, and it is time for all those who are not complicit with the radical conservative agenda in this country to be counted, almost every single time Max Baucus has chosen not to be counted. On the majority of the most egregiously foul pieces of Bush-led legislation over the past four years, Max Baucus has been complicit with the incompetence, deception, and destructive force that is modern conservatism (otherwise known as whatever George Bush did today). He only came back into line on Social Security after extensively cajoling. Today, he has outdone himself, by undercutting his own caucus leader by stating he would vote to confirm Roberts only hours after Harry Reid said he would not.

Even setting aside for as moment whether or not confirming Roberts is the right thing to do, why would Baucus issue a press release only hours after Reid’s? Is he intentionally trying to undercut the Democratic Party, and make us all as complicit as him? I think so. For that matter, why would he release a press statement at all? Baucus is not on the judiciary committee, he is not running for re-election in 2006, he has no national profile, he is not a member of the Gang and he will never run for President. What does the nation care what Baucus will do on Roberts? Why would he release this statement now, unless he was intentionally trying to undermine Reid? Why couldn’t he just vote however he wanted and shut up?

But TNR Editors go even further:

If you look closely enough at recent domestic policy debacles, you’ll invariably see his fingerprints. Facing George W. Bush’s massive tax-cut proposal in 2001, Baucus undermined the Senate Democrats’ strategy of forcing concessions by maintaining a united front. In private negotiations with his GOP counterpart, Chuck Grassley, Baucus produced a bill that handed the White House virtually all of its top priorities. Afterward, he boasted that he’d done Democrats a favor, since they “would have been in trouble in 2002 just saying no to every one of the president’s proposals.” We shudder to think what might have happened had the Democrats been labeled “obstructionist.”

Then there was the 2003 Medicare debate. Baucus, true to his method, agreed to a set of procedural conditions that undermined Democratic unity and preordained a disastrous outcome. Then he used the little authority he retained to–how to put it?–give away the store. In addition to agreeing to Health Savings Accounts–a gambit that he had once condemned as irresponsible–Baucus assented to a provision preventing Medicare from negotiating discounts with pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Baucus and his defenders–alternately known as his press office–make two arguments on his behalf. The first is that Baucus is simply doing what he needs to do to get reelected. (This argument usually masquerades behind the mantra of doing what’s best for the “people of Montana.”) But, unless the way to get ahead in Montana is to insist on overcharging Medicare patients by billions of dollars, the senator has been going far above and beyond the call of duty.

Baucus’s second argument is that Democrats get substantively better legislation when he engages Republicans on their behalf. But this argument assumes the Bush administration has the votes to pass legislation without Democratic support. Often, it’s Baucus who provides the margin of victory–either with his own vote or by crafting pseudo-compromises that provide cover for a small number of Democratic defectors. Indeed, the Democrats’ only real victory of the last five years–stuffing the administration on Social Security–came after Harry Reid cautioned Baucus against freelancing with the White House.

Even in the minority Republicans can still rule the senate, all they need is Max Baucus.