The latest example is Baucus's comments on the bank tax, which he has now said will not be included in the banking bill, because it doesn't have the votes. As usual, Baucus's public stance is studied neutrality; he's for whatever will get the bill done, as if he has no possible way of affecting what does, or doesn't, have the votes. Yglesias gets very annoyed:
I find this kind of “meta” stuff very annoying and I wish reporters wouldn’t let the Baucuses of the world get away with it so easily. 60 votes aside, does Baucus think the bank tax idea is a good one? If not, what’s his critique of it? If so, does he think it would be good to try to bring it up as a separate reconciliation bill at some point? Is there some different form of tax increase that he likes better? Or will the budget deficit vanish like magic without tax increases?If he's annoyed by Baucus's persona, well, that's a matter of taste, I guess. But look: the chance that any reporter could pierce through that persona is zilch. We're talking about a veteran Senator, and for better or worse he believes that this is the best way for him to chair his committee. Reporters can, I'm sure, ask tough questions until they're blue on the face, and Baucus is going to give the same answer: what he's looking for is something that can get 60 votes. Indeed, I'm really not sure what "getting away with it" means here. Would the story be more informative if it included some sentence to the effect of, "Baucus repeatedly declined to offer his own views" of whatever the substantive matter was? Not in my view. Meanwhile, Baucus is in fact passing along useful information. If the press is going to push him on anything, I'd like them to push him on which Senators are opposed to it. We know, for better or worse, what Baucus favors.
And at any rate, judging from the health care experience, perhaps he knows what he's doing. After all, one could argue it was Max Baucus, with his "I'm for anything that can get 60 votes and against anything that can't" attitude, that succeeded in getting, yes, 60 votes on the Senator floor. There are plenty of other styles of heading a Congressional committee, but for Baucus, it sure seems as if his neutral broker method (or at least his public neutral broker method) is not too bad.