By Russell Berman - 12/27/11 11:15 AM EST
SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D-Mont.)
As chairman of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, Baucus has been at the center of budget, tax and healthcare debates in Congress since the beginning of the Obama administration. He has developed solid relationships with Republicans in both chambers, including with a lead Republican negotiator, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (Mich.). Liberals have groused that Baucus is too quick to compromise on key Democratic demands, and while he has served a pivotal role in healthcare and deficit negotiations, he has yet to be able to seal the deal on a major legislative agreement.
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-Md.)
With federal worker jobs and salaries on the chopping block in the negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made crystal clear why he picked Cardin on Friday: “No one in the Senate has been more protective of federal employees than Sen. Cardin,” Reid said. “When we were doing the negotiations for a long-term deal, one place people were looking is to do some real difficult things to federal employees. I know that Ben will be fair, but not punitive.” Cardin will have a home-state ally on the conference committee in Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and their selection is a signal that Democrats will fight hard to keep federal employees from bearing the burden in paying for the extension of the tax cut and jobless benefits.
SEN. JACK REED (D-R.I.)
A third-term Rhode Island senator, Reed will keep a close eye on the unemployment insurance program as Republicans seek to overhaul it as part of the negotiations. “Nevada has had unemployment very, very high for a long time, but a state that's been hit really hard by unemployment … is also Rhode Island,” Reid said Friday in making the appointment. “And no one in the Senate has been more protective of the unemployed than Jack Reed.” At 10.5 percent, Rhode Island has the third-highest unemployment rate in the country, trailing only California and Nevada.
SEN. BOB CASEY JR. (D-Pa.)
The first-term Democrat is on the conference committee for a simple reason: He is the chief author of the legislation extending the payroll tax cut. A centrist Democrat from a swing state, Casey also heads up the Joint Economic Committee and has emerged as a champion for middle-class, bread-and-butter economic issues. Casey is also the only Senate Democratic conferee up for reelection in 2012, and party leaders are looking to boost his resume with a key legislative accomplishment heading into November.