[I]f Baucus can get something through his committee with fourteen votes by the end of September, then he'll deserve a lot of praise. But it could still blow up, and I'm not convinced that anyone, including Baucus, has a good whip count on committee votes.Well, it's October 13, not the end of September, but he got his fourteen votes. Baucus's process, the slow walk through the spring and summer and the Gang of Six, was much ridiculed by liberals, unfairly I think. Really: does anyone think that he had fourteen votes in June?
Fourteen votes is an enormous accomplishment. I'm not sure I agree with Ezra Klein that liberals are better off negotiating with Snowe than with Ben Nelson as the bill moves along, but I think it's certain that they're better off having 61 -- or more, with Collins, Voinovich, and Lugar still all possible -- than with having just 60 in play at all.
Baucus has to share the credit with others: Rockefeller, Schumer, Wyden, and Bingaman and maybe others on the committee; Majority Leader Reid and his office; Ted Kennedy, who put things in motion; and the president and his apparently excellent legislative liaison group, beginning with the chief-of-staff. And all the people who campaigned for and elected Al Franken, and Kay Hagan, and Jim Webb, and Jon Tester, and the rest of the sixty vote majority. But today is Baucus's day, and I think that a lot of liberals owe him apologies. Granted, that the bill passed doesn't prove it was the only or best strategy to pass a bill, but over the summer numerous liberals said that Baucus had no idea what he was doing, or that he would allow reform to die rather than annoy his buddies on the Republican side of the aisle (here's Jonathan Zasloff asking whether Baucus is "Stupid or Evil." Here's Nick Beaudrot's contribution to Baucus ridicule).
Again, that the bill passed with fourteen votes doesn't mean that a better (from the liberals' point of view) couldn' t have also found fourteen votes. It doesn't even absolutely prove that the chances for a bill finally passing are better with a fourteen vote bill out of Finance than they would have been with a twelve vote bill out of Finance (although I'm pretty confident about that one). It does, however, show that Baucus knew what he was doing all summer. And it's an impressive achievement, I think.
My own sense of things is that in fact this is the best path to a bill, and that it'll wind up being a bill, for all its flaws, that liberals will eventually celebrate as Barack Obama's great accomplishment (well, maybe one of his many great accomplishments -- we'll see!). The history books tend to be much more kind to presidents than to everyone else, but for today at least it's Max Baucus of Montana, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, who deserves the huzzahs.