Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 30, 2009

EYEING BAUCUS' GAVEL?.... As of today, probably the biggest hurdle standing in the way of health care reform is the Senate Finance Committee, or more specifically, the group of six centrist and center-right senators on the committee who are crafting a Republican-friendly proposal. The effort, like the committee, is being led by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, the not-at-all-liberal Democrat from Montana.

When it comes to health care, there are some strong Democratic voices on the Finance Committee, including John Kerry, Debbie Stabenow, Chuck Schumer, Maria Cantwell, and John Rockefeller, but they're not invited to the negotiating table. It's Baucus who's in the lead, and it's Baucus who won't advance reform until he can win over some conservative senators.

Apparently, there are some senators who are wondering why Baucus has this much power, and what the caucus might do to change this.

In an apparent warning to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), some liberal Democrats have suggested a secret-ballot vote every two years on whether or not to strip committee chairmen of their gavels.

Baucus, who is more conservative than most of the Democratic Conference, has frustrated many of his liberal colleagues by negotiating for weeks with Republicans over healthcare reform without producing a bill or even much detail about the policies he is considering.

"Every two years the caucus could have a secret ballot on whether a chairman should continue, yes or no," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "If the 'no's win, [the chairman's] out."

Well, that's certainly one way to get Baucus' attention. "That's a nice gavel you have there, Max. It'd be a shame if something happened to it."

The chairman doesn't seem especially concerned about pushback from Montana voters, but if it's his Democratic colleagues who have his chairmanship in their hands, perhaps he'd be more amenable to his party's agenda?

This seems to go beyond just Harkin. One senator, asked about a biennial referendum on committee chairs, told The Hill, "Put me down as a yes, but if you use my name I'll send a SWAT team after you."

Joe Lieberman, chair of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said he'd oppose such a proposal. That's not too big a surprise -- if it's his gavel on the line with a secret-ballot vote from his colleagues, Lieberman might have to give up his chairmanship, too.

All the more reason to look favorably on the idea.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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Senator Harkin's idea is great, and I fully support it. But we don't need to wait a year or two before punishing Baucus. The Senate Democrats need to vote down his bill, either in the Finance Committee or on the Senate floor.

President Obama is desperate to sign something, anything, that he can claim as a victory on health care. If Senate Democrats deny him that opportunity, the White House will get serious and start turning screws on Baucus.

Posted by: desmoinesdem on July 30, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

Excuse me, but who won the effin' election?

I believe the biz as usual, big biz money party, let's not be hasty now folks, DIDN'T. . .

Posted by: DAY on July 30, 2009 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

By the time we could get around to enacting this, the agenda will be down the tubes, we'll only hold a small majority, and Obama's popularity will be in the mid-40s.

The agenda needs to be saved from the "Do-nothing-and-do-it-slowly" Blue Dogs now.

Posted by: howie on July 30, 2009 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

Come on Harry Reid. Announce that the ballot will take place the day after they return from recess. I dare you.

Posted by: Patrick on July 30, 2009 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

A great idea - maybe it would give a bit more clout to the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

I can understand why Baucus' committee-within-a-committee includes Olympia Snowe, since she's practically the last of the GOP moderates. And even after all the stupid things Grassley has said that telegraph his fundamental opposition to universal health care, apparently the fact that he and Baucus are buddies carries more weight.

But Enzi? He's one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate, and that's saying a lot, given the competition. And he represents a state that's got a Cook PVI of GOP +20, second only to Utah at +21. Why is he being given any sort of meaningful say in this? Why not just ask Sens. Inhofe, Coburn, and Sessions for help in writing the bill?

This is just plain nuts.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on July 30, 2009 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

I would prefer a retroactive Double Secret Probation plan. I believe that was Senator Wormer's idea.

Posted by: berttheclock on July 30, 2009 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

Well, I didn't realize Kerry was on the Finance Committee--I just called his office, since I'm a constituent, and explained to him that I expected him to do more to represent us than stand around with his thumb up his ass while Baucus and the gang of six held their secret meetings. (OK, I didn't say that--but I did say that I thought he could do more than "just say something", which the secretary assured me he had done.)

If it had been me, who was the Senator from MA and I was my actual self I'd have gone into those meetings, uninvited. Or stood outside with a camera crew and narrated the scene of them giving away every precious health care advantage to industry and insurance companies. Make fun of the fuckers. Cut them off at the knees. But never, ever, treat them with Senatorial comity.


Posted by: aimai on July 30, 2009 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Biennial? Forget that. Biweekly. Or how about whenever someone in the caucus calls a vote of no confidence?

Posted by: doubtful on July 30, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

low-tech it is beyond nuts.

I have been trying to raise the alarm about the Gang of Seven (sic).

On July 22 Senator Hatch announced he was leaving the Baucus committee within a committee. Which I took as good news. Until I realized that the remaining Gang of Six was still evenly split between Repubs and Dems meaning that the original Gang of Seven was composed of FOUR REPUBLICANS and only three democrats. Quite apart from the fact that Baucus, Conrad and Bingaham don't represent the ideological balance of the D caucus to start with they seemingly define 'bi-partisan' as a REPUBLICAN MAJORITY!.

Sorry for shouting, but it is one thing for Baucus to defy his own caucus but turning power over to the other side is political treason.

If there is some other interpretation I am willing to listen, but from what I see this is reason enough to strip that gavel starting yesterday

Posted by: Bruce Webb on July 30, 2009 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Bruce Webb,

In addition to your argument that the Gang of Seven included four members of the minority and only three of the majority, you should know those seven Senators only represent 3.61% of the United States.

They are the antithesis of what it means to be representative and further proof that the insurance lobby knows the game and knows where their money will be well spent. Senators from small states are unduly powerful and more susceptible to corporate bribery, given that they have a smaller constituency from which to draw campaign contributions.

Posted by: doubtful on July 30, 2009 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

How about like secret "hold," a secret call for a non-confidence vote on any chairmanship at any time by the caucus. Perhaps they should be able to do that for Senate majority leader as well.

Posted by: gttim on July 30, 2009 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

I normally dislike term limits, but in the case of the Senate, I'm open to the idea. This swamp has become the elephants' graveyard of good ideas in government.

Posted by: TCinLA on July 30, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

You don't need term limits, you just need to stop giving gavels to senators who are elected as Democrats but refuse to advance Democratic bills.

Posted by: Jim on July 30, 2009 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Frankly, the mistake that Team Obama made these last few weeks is to focus the publics attention on his healthcare package. They were perfectly content in their ignorant bliss up till then, and he had to go and get their attention. When youre messing with somebodys personal business, its best not to tell them about it.
Reminds me of the Rumsfeld attributed (actually Jed Babbin) quote going to war without France is like going deer hunting without an accordion. Obama should leave the accordion at home.

Posted by: Neo on July 30, 2009 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

who cares what Lieberman says? Is he even in the damned caucus, and if so, why? A perfectly good Democratic Senator is sitting in Conn. waiting for this fool to die (Ned Lamont).

This is the flaw with the big tent idea . . . at some point you just stop being a Democrat and are an asshole Republican with different stripes.

Posted by: Charles on July 30, 2009 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

What's more sacred, Senate rules or democracy?

The idea that the majority caucus can't hold a vote of confidence on a committee chairman anytime they want seems like royalism.

Posted by: Joey Giraud on July 30, 2009 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

I am wondering who the other senator was who seconded Harkin. "SWAT team" makes me think it's a guy and possibly a military guy. I can't believe it's one of the newer guys so forget Franken/Tester/Udall/Bennett. Probably somebody who's been there a while. I am thinking Kerry, Durbin, Lautenberg or Leahy. Maybe Whitehouse or Sherrod Brown. Can't see Wyden/Rockefeller/Byrd/Reed/Bill Nelson using that kind of language. Can't be the other Nelson and not Conrad.

Posted by: warren terrah on July 30, 2009 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK

after all these years finally we the people have a chance to do something for ourselves which doesn't require feeding ghouls who profit from our sickness and death and one man stands in the way of the president the ruling party and 70% of Americans. That is perverted.

Posted by: Isa Kocher on August 1, 2009 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK
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