Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Moving Forward in Neutral

Matt Yglesias doesn't like the way Max Baucus talks, and thinks something should be done about it.  I disagree!

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.


  1. I think what Yglesias is getting at here is that the statement from Baucus is kind of a cop-out. He's not taking a stand for or against the particulars of the bank tax; instead, he's just stating an observation that it doesn't have 60 votes.

    Meanwhile, if I'm a Montana voter, I have no idea how Baucus personally stands on the issue. Has he been trying, fruitlessly, to convince his colleagues to support the bank tax because he thinks it is a good idea? Or is he looking for any excuse to get rid of the proposal because he thinks it is bad policy (or maybe his banker contributors don't like it)? I don't know. And neither do you, Jonathan, although you apparently feel comfortable in assuming that he supports it. (Seems like it would be smarter to assume that he doesn't support it, given that he didn't care to mention whether it has 50 votes and can be enacted via reconciliation.)

    I suppose it is a matter of taste, but if I'm a constituent I definitely want to know which way he personally stands.

    (By the way, you could easily argue that Baucus's "public neutral broker method" in the health care debate caused months of unnecessary delay and gridlock, resulted in a much worse bill, and set the Democrats up for an epic bloodbath in November.)

  2. I agree (not that I have to, since we have confirmation above from Yglesias himself) that Andrew has correctly stated Yglesias's objection. I get what he's saying; I just don't agree with it.

    Actually, I don't mean to imply that Baucus is actually for it; I have no idea how Baucus-as-Senator feels. But what I think he's telling us is that he's not acting as Senator; he's acting as Chair, and as Chair, he supports whatever will get a bill across the finish line.

    And I don't think it's an unreasonable representative style. If what he's promising MTans is that he's going to be a Big Shot Chair, a Hill power broker, then he's just keeping his promise if that's how he actually acts (presumably, there's also promises to get goodies for MT out of it...but I really don't know what he actually campaigns on).

    Of course, a lot of this comes down to Andrew's final parenthetical, and my final paragraph above. If Baucus is actually an effective chair, and his style was a big help in getting health care passed, then I suspect that most liberals would be willing to live with his style; if his style was a problem, then not so much. At any rate, *I* certainly couldn't argue that he "caused months of...November," since I've been arguing the opposite ever since I signed on here.


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