Will Max Baucus let Dick Cheney vote?

The score in the senate is that a single Democratic defection allows Dick Cheney to decide the issue. For Republicans, the number one target to undermine Harry Reid's leadership is Max Baucus. Even the conservative Joe Lieberman Weekly 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."

Today's Washington Post has a story, Democrats to Push Pocketbook Issues where we see Baucus hinting of siding with big corporations to undermine Harry Reid and screw over working people:

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.

If you want to see why Baucus is the most dangerous Democrat in the senate, look no further than why we have this medicare mess in the first place (HINT: almost all of the blame goes to Max Baucus). 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.

Chris Bowers chronicled:

Here is some history on Max Baucus:

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.

This is the senator we need to keep our eyes.

Tags: 2008, Brian Schweitzer, Harry Reid, Jon Tester, Max Baucus, Medicare, Montana, MT-Sen, Prescription Drugs, Primaries, Social Security, Taxes, triangulation (all tags)

Comments

12 Comments

Re: Will Max Baucus let Dick Cheney vote?

If Baucus is right about triangulation, then putting in place the pieces for a primary will be the best thing to ever happen to him. If he triangulates out of fear, then making him fear his "base" more than the right might help prevent him from stabbing Reid in the back.

by Bob Brigham 2006-11-20 09:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Will Max Baucus let Dick Cheney vote?

Sirota also mentioned trade:

Baucus's position on trade is the focus of a big story in CongressDaily today. The newsletter says that Baucus heading the Finance Committee "offers a thin ray of hope to Bush administration trade officials and their business allies" when it comes to passing these atrocious trade deals. Here's more from the story:

"Baucus, who worked with President Bush in his first term to enact trade negotiating authority and has supported many of his trade initiatives since, is considered a closer ally of the president on trade than most Republicans...'Baucus has always had a balanced approach on trade issues. His taking over the Senate Finance chairmanship is encouraging to the business community,' said Nicole Venable, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce trade lobbyist...Off the Senate floor late Thursday, Baucus avowed that renewing presidential trade negotiating authority was 'very, very important.'...Baucus is up for re-election in 2008 and might face a challenge from Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont. Rehberg also opposed CAFTA and, if he runs, might tack to the left of Baucus on trade."

Fortunately, the story does note that "Republican sources said they have been worried by Baucus' opposition to the Central America Free Trade Agreement and criticism of the administration's position on labor during debate on the Oman trade agreement, which Baucus ultimately supported." Additionally, Baucus "left himself maximum room to reject a [fast-track] bill that does not incorporate Democratic demands on labor or other issues."

Remember, though - it was Baucus who headed to India last year to parrot Tom Friedman and trumpet how wonderful the outsourcing of American jobs has been. But also remember that the other major Democratic players in Montana -  Sen.-elect Jon Tester and Gov. Brian Schweitzer -  are both strongly opposed to the "free" trade fundamentalism that has dominated Washington and decimated the heartland. Unlike the last two decades where Baucus has been able to operate on trade in a vacuum, his moves on the issue now will be measured up at home to those of other major political leaders, meaning a big potential embarrassment factor for him, and also the possibility that someone like Rehberg will use other Democratic leaders here in Montana as a way to bludgeon Baucus on the issue in a campaign setting.

Sirota's piece is a must-read.

by Bob Brigham 2006-11-20 09:44AM | 0 recs
Re: Will Max Baucus let Dick Cheney vote?

Better left to the Democratic voters in Montana, I'd say.  The only person I can think of who could take Baucus out in a primary is Schweitzer, but is there any indication he'd do that?

by Vox Populi 2006-11-20 11:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Will Max Baucus let Dick Cheney vote?

Schweitzer ran for Senator before he ran for Governor, but with a half a million dollar ante there are dozens of Montanans who could beat Baucus in a primary. Oddly enough, most of them were his biggest supporters in '78, '84, and '90.

by Bob Brigham 2006-11-20 12:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Will Max Baucus let Dick Cheney vote?

Baucus is a wonk, not an ideologue.  Boy, does the base hate that.

It's true that Baucus worked with Republicans sometimes while they were in the majority.  Some would say he made the best of a bad situation by getting a seat at the table and making bad bills a little better.  Others would say he's a traitor who foolishly gave the bad guys bipartisan cover.

Chris Bowers thinks it took a Herculean effort to prevent Baucus from going over to the dark side on Social Security.  It's interesting, because I see him as one of the two or three Democrats who played the largest role in defeating Bush's proposal.  I guess we're seeing something completely different.  And it's worth noting that Baucus's remarks about the future of Bush's plan have been widely reported in the last week - to the effect of "don't waste our time."  That's not triangulation.  Not even close.

Sure, I'd love it if Baucus were more liberal.  But he's a thoughtful moderate who takes policy seriously.  I think we're a better country for having him in the Senate.

by Steve M 2006-11-20 11:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Will Max Baucus let Dick Cheney vote?

Chris Bowers thinks it took a Herculean effort to prevent Baucus from going over to the dark side on Social Security.  It's interesting, because I see him as one of the two or three Democrats who played the largest role in defeating Bush's proposal.

Having dedicated months of my life to the Social Security battle, let me tell you what I heard:

Reid knew that Baucus was the weak link when it came to Democrats uniting, so he put Baucus in charge. Much like a lazy county commissioner is named vice-chair of a committee just to get him to show up, Baucus had smoke blown up his ass as a way to get him in line. For Reid's part, it was brilliant and it worked. But the reasoning behind it belied the fact that Baucus is the weak link for Democrats.

Back when Baucus was a great senator, his chief of staff was Mike Cooney. But a lot has changed since then:

TNR: "Baucus and his defenders--alternately known as his press office..."

Sirota:

That latter point is especially true considering the infamous/hilarious behavior of some of Baucus's top staffers here in the state. Some of them do a laughable we-own-the-place routine more suited to a bad Joe Pesci parody on Saturday Night Live than the real world. But as funny as it is and as much of a source of endless entertainment it has been to the people in Montana his staff deals with, it has definitely bred some intense resentment in state, which ultimately has been a disservice to the Senator himself.

Baucus is surrounded by Bull Moose Blog disciples. And the last two re-election campaigns have proven poison to any Democrat unlucky enough to be on the ballot at the same time as Dick Cheney's senator.

by Bob Brigham 2006-11-20 12:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Will Max Baucus let Dick Cheney vote?

Could we get Tester to SIT on him??

by jukesgrrl 2006-11-20 12:44PM | 0 recs
Re: Will Max Baucus let Dick Cheney vote?

Even more devastating is a video or Tester and Schweitzer on pocketbook issues contrasted with Baucus in a virtual debate.

by Bob Brigham 2006-11-20 12:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Will Max Baucus let Dick Cheney vote?

"of" not "or"

by Bob Brigham 2006-11-20 12:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Will Max Baucus let Dick Cheney vote?

HELENA - Montana Democrats are organizing a "surprise" retirement party for Democratic Senator Max Baucus on the date of the Democratic Primary election in June of 2008.

"From Eureka to Alzada, we expecting celebrations of Baucus' retirement at polling place across Montana," said a party organizer who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve the event's surprise factor.

"I can't imagine why the people of Montana continue to put up with my crap," the Senator told the Onion in May of 2001. "I should just quit. Actually, I should have quit a long time ago. But I never did, because the people kept insisting I run for another term."

The embattled Senator has spent more time in Washington, DC than many of his constituents have been alive and appears to have a recognition of the degree to which he is out of touch.

"I'm not sure what I'm going to do with myself once I leave the Senate, though," Baucus stated as evidence he realized his lack of a skill set beyond enabling Republicans. "I can't go back to Montana, that's for sure. Facing all those constituents I failed so badly day after day, year after year? I don't think so."

Another organizer of the retirement celebration suggested that Montanans show their gratitude by providing the senator's wife, Wanda, with gift cards for garden stores.

by Bob Brigham 2006-11-20 04:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Will Max Baucus let Dick Cheney vote?

Do you live in Montana?

by Vox Populi 2006-11-20 04:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Will Max Baucus let Dick Cheney vote?

I was born in the same hospital as Schweitzer and Tester, in the town that was founded because it was exactly half-way between the Twin Cities and Seattle. I went on to work for the MDP and started pushing Tester online back in 2004. Max Baucus was the first politician I ever volunteered for.

But none of this matters, judge my stuff on the content, not the author.

by Bob Brigham 2006-11-20 04:50PM | 0 recs

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