Max Baucus: Good Senator?

Max Baucus announced yesterday that he’s retiring after this Congress.

He’s been, I’d say, a good Senator — with the faults of good Senators. Senate Finance Committee Chairs, at least the modern ones, have tended to be deal-makers who cared more about getting things done than any particular substantive concerns, with Bob Dole being maybe the perfect example, along with Lloyd Bentsen and Baucus.

Baucus infuriated liberals, mostly because, well, he wasn’t one. They were wrong, in my view, in their attacks on him for attempting to get Republicans (or at least Olympia Snowe) on board for the Affordable Care Act in 2009; while it was ultimately unsuccessful, it was hardly certain that it would be, and the delay was more myth than reality.

On the other hand, Baucus’s choice to work with Republicans in passing massive tax cuts in 2001 was a real example of choosing getting things done over substance. That’s the one that liberals should hold against him.

Dealmakers are rarely beloved, other than by their constituents who enjoy the benefits, and perhaps by Congressional scholars (and hangers-on). And liberals are particularly upset with Baucus right now after his vote against Manchin-Toomey last week, a vote which evidently wasn’t about electoral incentives unless he had a very late change of heart about running. But my general feeling is that the ACA should count on the plus side for Baucus, for liberals that is.

All that said, if Democrats do hold the Senate, the man in line to be the next chair of Finance is the mainstream liberal that Baucus isn’t. Ezra Klein has a good profile up on Ron Wyden — who is, as he says, more idiosyncratic than liberals probably want, but his instincts surely are basically liberal. Wyden isn’t really in the Dole tradition; if you’re looking for a comp, perhaps try Daniel Patrick Moynihan, minus the pretension, I suppose.

At any rate, the high turnover in the Senate continues. Are there more shoes still to drop? It’s still early in the cycle.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.