Four Aftershocks of the Max Baucus-to-China News

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 18 2013 6:47 PM

Four Aftershocks of the Max Baucus-to-China News

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Spare a thought for us back home once in a while, Max.

Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

1) Max Baucus is giving up the gavel of the Senate Finance Committee after years of working on/being undermined on tax reform. For a short while, it looked like his retirement announcement and the enthusiasm of House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp would combine, somehow, and push through the elusive 1986-style reform that everyone in the Senate claims to want. Within months, the momentum had faded, and Baucus was proposing ad hoc reforms to foreign earnings and energy taxes. Maybe he'd get another crack at at full reform in 2014? No. Now, he won't.

2) Next in line to run the Finance Committee is West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, another old bull who's retiring—and who already heads the Commerce Committee. After Rockefeller there's Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a nearly 20-year Senate veteran who has dreamed up his own, less lobbyist-influenced versions of tax reform. Does Wyden take the gavel? My sources say he's inclined to. But Wyden's got five years on the next Democrat in the queue, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, and as quixotic as Wyden can be, the left's got to prefer his brand of politics to Schumer's mind meld with the financial industry.

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3) Like I said, Baucus was already giving up his seat. Montana's current lieutenant governor, John Walsh, got into the race to replace him, on the prodding of national Democrats. The LG once removed, John Bohlinger, stayed in the race anyway, running to the left on health care (single-payer now!) and privacy (a constitutional amendment to bar mass domestic surveillance). Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, could appoint Walsh and give him seniority to run on, but that risks the appearance of favoritism. Plus, the argument can be made that Walsh, the former National Guard commander in Montana, is a better candidate as a pure outsider than as a senator who has to—shudder—vote on things.

4) This hardly matters, but the Baucus news steps on headlines former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer might have gotten for his speech to Iowa Democrats. Schweitzer, one of the most quotable men with "D" after his name, has kept up a steady schedule of media interviews that usually involve him browbeating Hillary Clinton or the city of Washington for being "corporatist" or generally horrible.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.