Having it both ways

Tom Jensen on PPP's latest Montana polling, showing Baucus with shrinking support from Democrats, and popularity among Republicans long gone:

Baucus' plight is similar to that of a number of other Senators who tried to have it both ways on health care, watering down the bill but still voting for it in the end. Blanche Lincoln's stance, among other issue positions, alienated her base so much that she nearly lost her party's nomination. And it certainly didn't help her to win Republican votes in the fall, leading to her overwhelming defeat in November. Joe Lieberman's actions on health care have helped to put him in a most unusual position- his approval rating is under 50% with Democrats, Republicans, and independents, one of very few Senators who's managed to pull off that trio. And on the other side of the aisle Olympia Snowe's vote for the health care bill at one point in committee, even though she voted against it in the end, infuriated the Republican base in the state and has many folks hankering for a primary challenge against her.

Every voter has his or her issue that is, to them, indisputably the most important issue ever, but Jensen's conclusions show that every party also has a set of issues that support for (or opposition to) is a nearly foregone conclusion in the minds of voters.  Affordable health care was such an issue for Democrats.  Opposition to that same reform was a given for the GOP.

Baucus lost any popularity he held with Montana Republicans the minute he even acknowledged there was a health care reform effort to be a part of.  So you follow that up with a plan to water down the bill, weakening not only the reform, but support from the base you need even more, having lost the Republicans?  Genius strategy.

You're losing one side either way.  Why not give the side you still have everything they really want?

The choice was always either complete support of the strongest bill possible, or complete opposition to any reforms at all, and the electorate had shown that clearly in poll after poll leading up to Max's two month long delay crusade to be everyone's hero. 

Baucus' antics during the health care reform debate exemplify the Democratic Party's obsession with moderation (as defined by David Broder!) for moderation's sake and bipartisanship (as defined by Fox News!) for the media's sake, and now, for Baucus, it's coming home to roost.

Time to bypass this Liebermann/Blue Dog strategy for electoral "success."

Reid Scraps Baucus-Grassley Jobs Bill

Sounds like we won't bother casting our line into a dry pond:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday that he was scrapping a draft of a bipartisan jobs bill proposed by Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), just hours after the deal was announced


Reid said the tax extenders “confuse” the bill, and said other provisions called for in the Baucus-Grassley plan would be addressed in later measures. He added that Democrats have decided to make jobs the primary legislative focus for the year. “We don’t have a jobs bill. We have a jobs agenda,” Reid said.

It is unclear what Reid’s plan will mean for Republicans.

Many of the provisions in the Baucus-Grassley proposal, particularly the tax extenders, were seen as key to garnering Republican support.

The Senate Finance Committee, where healthcare reform legislation languished for months last year, had made an attempt at a jobs bill that, according to Congressional Quarterly, includes not only "a tax incentive for hiring; extensions of tax breaks and economic stimulus provisions that have expired or are about to; highway funding; and a provision to head off a cut in Medicare payments to doctors" but also a promise to deliver billions upon billions of dollars in tax cuts for the extremely wealthy in the form of an extension of estate and gift tax cuts.

But Republicans aren't interested in giving Obama anything resembling a win, let alone a bipartisan one. No use pretending.


Chris Dodd Repeating Max Baucus' Mistakes

Folks who were hoping that a lame duck Dodd would be more inclined to push for more aggressive financial regulatory reform should be disappointed to hear that Dodd, who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, is now considering negotiating away creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency in an attempt to win over Republican senators.  Actually, all of us should be disappointed.  What's as discouraging as the move is the motivation: Dodd is saying he wants a financial regulatory reform that Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the committee, can support.  He's created a team of four Democratic senators and four Republicans to try to hash out a deal.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?  Dodd and Shelby seem to be reading from the Max Baucus - Charles Grassley script that consumed the healthcare process in the Senate for long enough that now a special election result in January has the chance to blow up the bill again.  What did they get to show for it?  Olympia Snowe voted the bill out of the Finance Committee but then voted with every other Senate GOPer to declare it unconstitutional.

What's most frustrating about this is that it's just bad negotiating.  Chris Dodd only weakens his position by giving Richard Shelby (and thus Mitch McConnell) a veto over financial regulatory reform.  Republicans have no motivation to help Democrats pass a strong bill regulating the banks - first, because Republicans are in bed with the banks, and second, because Republicans want to keep bashing the Democrats for being in bed with the banks (a strategy which is paying off, judging by the polls in Massachusetts).

Even if the Democrats are desperate for Republican votes (whether to give moderate Democrats cover, to make up for Democratic defections, or to earn a bipartisan aura), the best way to get them is to show you're ready to pass a bill without them.  Then there's a shot a Republican offers to support a weaker version.  The worst strategy to win Republican votes is to try to show how reasonable you are by offering them veto power in exchange for being willing to talk to you.  We call that negotiating against yourself.

And as Matt Yglesias observes, there are worse things that could happen than a Republican filibuster of financial regulatory reform.



Max Baucus Nominated Lover For US Attorney

The AP reports:

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Max Baucus says the Montana Democrat was in a romantic relationship with the woman he nominated for U.S. attorney.

Spokesman Ty Matsdorf says Baucus and his former state office director Melodee Hanes began the relationship in the summer of 2008. Baucus nominated Hanes for the U.S. attorney post last March, but she later withdrew her name.

I interned for Max during the 2008 farm bill conference proceedings. I've been pretty ticked at him in recent weeks for being the only Democrat on the EPW Committee to vote against the Kerry-Boxer climate bill and have grown slower to point out my past associations with him, but no matter how mad I got at him over policy, I always figured at least he was a man of character who always put his state and country first and kept himself grounded. Maybe not. I am extremely disappointed in him. He has let Montana, his staff, and the US Justice system down.

Baucus was just re-elected in 2008, but given his central role in every single major piece of domestic legislation currently under consideration (health care, cap-and-trade, financial regulations), there will be major fallout from this, as well there should be. Even if his motives truly were pure, he's smart enough that he should have known better, and I can think of no valid excuse.

Update [By Nathan Empsall 12-05-09 12:49]: Reading more about this from other sources, I should point out that this was not an affair. Baucus and his wife, though not yet divorced, were separated when his relationship with Hanes, a long-time staffer, began. Nevertheless, this is still nepotism, and it is still wrong.

According to Politico, Baucus's office "contends that Hanes was recommended because of her qualifications – and that the relationship had nothing to do with her nomination to the position or their respective divorces from their spouses... 'Both Senator Baucus and Ms. Hanes agreed that she should withdraw her name from consideration because they wanted to live together in Washington, DC'" where Hanes would be ineligible to serve as US Attorney. Hanes's ex-husband disagrees: "She was recommended for the position because of a very close and personal relationship with Max Baucus and she withdrew because of a very close and personal relationship with Max Baucus." But like I said, even if the appointment truly were about Hanes's qualifications and nothing more, Baucus still should have known better. My mother used to always warn me about "the perception of wrong-doing." Shameful. No excuses.

There's more...

Is This Healthcare Reform Really the Model we Want??

Crossposted from Hillbilly Report.

The legislation the Senate Finance Committee will vote on next week relies heavily on Co-ops to help cover the uninsured. It discards a robust public option, or any public option completely. It also mandates that uninsured Americans must buy insurance with subsidies to help them do it. Senators Baucus and Conrad are intent on including this model into law and voting against any more Progressives ideas such as a Public Option and single-payer.

There's more...


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