Max Baucus, the 71-year-old Democratic senator from Montana, will not seek re-election in 2014, a Democratic official told Politico. That leaves an open seat in a state that Mitt Romney won by nearly 14 points — which normally would make Democrats very worried.
Yet plenty of liberals are actually rejoicing at the news that Baucus is stepping down. And Baucus isn't just another senator: He is a six-term incumbent who, as chairman of the Finance Committee, is one of the most powerful members of Congress. So why are some lefties glad to see him go?
He voted against extended background checks
Baucus was one of a handful of Democratic senators in pro-gun states to vote against the Manchin-Toomey bill that would have extended background checks to gun shows and online sales. Afterwards, a group called The Progressive Change Campaign Committee ran a series of full-page newspaper ads in Montana that read: "Senator Baucus, it was WRONG to vote 'no' on stopping gun violence. 79% of Montana voters support background checks. Stand with us, not gun manufacturers."
The group planned to spend $100,000 to challenge Baucus — as well as Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska — over his vote on gun control. Now it looks like Baucus has saved them the trouble.
He had a very cozy relationship with K Street
New York's Jonathan Chait has described Baucus' staff as "a kind of tax lobbyist grad school, with salaries of upwards of half a million dollars for the lucky graduates." The New York Times reported that 28 former Baucus staffers have lobbied on tax issues during the Obama administration — the most of any member of Congress. According to the Times, Baucus would regularly fly lobbyists to his Big Sky ranch for weekend fundraisers, and managed to build one of the Senate's largest war chests, valued at around $5 million.
"It's not a huge exaggeration to say Baucus's career represents everything that is wrong with Washington," says Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic, in one the most sympathetic liberal takes on the senator.
He voted for the Bush tax cuts
As a leading member of the Finance Committee, Baucus had inordinate influence over tax policy, and often sided with Republican positions. In 2001, he was instrumental in helping George W. Bush pass his 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut. Last month, he was only one of four Democrats to vote against the Senate budget, telling The Washington Post that the plan's "$1 trillion in tax increases is too much."
David Sirota of Salon calls Baucus "one of the politicians most responsible for the Democratic Party's destructive long-term shift to the right on economic issues," who wielded his power in the Senate to "riddle the tax code with corporate tax giveaways; eliminate a public option from health care legislation; and champion job-destroying 'free' trade deals."
He nearly derailed ObamaCare
Despite the fact that Baucus was one of the principal legislators behind the Affordable Care Act, he angered Democrats for allowing the legislation to wallow in committee for months, which exposed the controversial bill to endless attacks from the right — a contingent that eventually morphed into the Tea Party. He also helped tilt the bill heavily in favor of the insurance industry (though his defenders say such concessions were necessary to secure its passage).
And earlier this month he frustrated Democrats once more by claiming that the implementation of ObamaCare was shaping up to be a "train wreck."
There's a better Democrat in waiting
Losing a well-funded incumbent in your opponent's territory would normally be a huge blow. But Democrats think they have a winner in Brian Schweitzer, the state's gregarious, bolo tie-wearing former governor. A recent poll had Schweitzer up 19 points on Baucus in a Democratic primary. The same poll had Schweitzer behind potential Republican candidate Marc Racicot by only 1 point, better than Baucus, who was trailing by 5 points.