Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mad Max

On Max Baucus by Ari Berman on the Nation website:

Barack Obama received 67 million votes in the last election. Senator Max Baucus
of Montana received 349,000 votes when he ran for re-election last year. His
Republican counterpart on the Senate Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa,
got just over a million votes when he last ran in '04.

So how, exactly,
was Obama's landslide victory a mandate for Baucus and Grassley to hijack the
president's agenda? When it comes to healthcare reform, trusting Baucus was the
first mistake Obama made. Allowing Baucus to cede so much authority to Grassley
is the second.

When Baucus became chairman of the Senate Finance
Committee after Democrats recaptured Congress, many Democrats were justifiably
worried. After all, Baucus helped shepherd through Congress two of President
Bush's signature initiatives, his tax cuts and Medicare privatization plan. He
received a ton of money from corporate lobbyists, many of whom were former
staffers of his. In a Nation profile in early '07, I dubbed him "K Street's Favorite

Yet as Democrats solidified their control of Congress and
Obama cruised to the White House, Baucus tried to convince his Democratic
colleagues that they had nothing to worry about with him at the helm of such an
important committee with jurisdiction over crucial financial matters. He
endorsed Obama during the primary and Obama tapped Baucus' top aide, Jim
Messina, as his chief of staff for the general election and deputy chief of
staff in the White House. The hiring of Messina should've set off alarm bells
among progressives, signaling that Baucus now had an influential booster in the
president's inner circle.

When it came time to assemble a healthcare
bill, Baucus gathered behind closed doors with the so-called "gang
of six
"--Democrats Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico
and Republicans Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Grassley. As
Yglesias pointed out, these six senators represents 2.74 percent of the US
population, or 1/5 of California. Yet they quickly became the most influential
group in the Congress. In a secret, backroom process, they disregarded the
president's preference for a public option and likely killed the best chance we
had for substantive healthcare reform that would cover all Americans, lower
costs and give people a real choice of plans.

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