Sen. Baucus seeks to ensure Finance panel's involvement in 'fiscal cliff' talks

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax BaucusLawmakers: Leave advertising tax break alone GOP: FBI firing won't slow agenda White House tax-reform push is ‘game changer,’ says ex-chairman MORE, who watched President Obama and congressional leaders bypass his panel several times, wants a seat at the table for talks about the “fiscal cliff.”

Colleagues say Baucus (D-Mont.) wants to make sure his committee does not get pushed off its turf in the mad dash to strike a deficit-reduction deal. Such an agreement will likely include tax increases and entitlement reforms, two areas squarely within Baucus’s jurisdiction. 

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With only six weeks left before the Bush-era tax rates expire and automatic spending cuts are due to take effect, some lawmakers fear that the fiscal-cliff talks might take place exclusively among party leaders. 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyThe case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee Feinstein: Comey memos 'going to be turned over' MORE (R-Iowa), a former chairman of the Finance Committee, said Baucus wants to make sure he and his colleagues are not shut out from what could be the biggest tax and entitlement reform package of a generation.

“I think he’s coming from a point of view that the committee ought to function, and unless he’s aggressive it won’t,” Grassley said. 

Grassley said Baucus and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchGOP leaders launch internal review into leak Insurers: GOP should keep pre-existing condition protections DOJ pitches agreements to solve international data warrant woes MORE (Utah), the ranking Republican on Finance, should be “very much involved.”

Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner: Tax reform is 'just a bunch of happy talk' Lobbying World Jordan won't run for Oversight gavel MORE (R-Ohio) has tapped House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) to sit in on daily management meetings with Budget Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP leaders launch internal review into leak Opinion | Michael Steele: Gianforte better put his ‘big boy’ pants on Washington needs high-level science and technology expertise – now! MORE (R-Wis.) and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to review fiscal-cliff proposals. 

But Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidGOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing This week: Congress awaits Comey testimony Will Republicans grow a spine and restore democracy? MORE (D-Nev.) has yet to publicly carve out a special role for Baucus or any Senate committee heads. 

However, Reid has made a special effort to cultivate a relationship with Baucus, after Reid’s predecessor, former Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.), clashed fiercely with the powerful committee chairman. 

“Sen. Reid considers Sen. Baucus’s input invaluable and will be relying on him as he has in similar debates in the past,” said Adam Jentleson, Reid’s spokesman. 

Baucus convened a meeting with members of the Finance Committee late last week to discuss how they will have a say in the deal.

“I think there is a recognition that if you don’t have the committee’s involvement, it’s going to be more difficult to get it done,” said Sen. Ben CardinBen CardinSenate panel could pass new Russia sanctions this summer Worries mount about vacancies in Trump's State Department Pence marks Armed Forces Day with vow to rebuild military MORE (D-Md.), a member of the Finance panel. “We understand the responsibilities of our leaders, the president and Speaker and majority leader and minority leaders — we understand that. 

“But without having the knowledge and working participation of the committee members of jurisdiction, it’s going to make it more difficult to get it done,” he said. 

Another Finance Committee member with relevant expertise is Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenMnuchin: WH won't double-count economic growth Dem senator: White House stonewalling on important information Overnight Healthcare: CBO fallout | GOP senators distance themselves from House bill | Trump budget chief blasts score | Schumer says House bill belongs 'in the trash' MORE (D-Ore.), who has teamed up with Sen. Mark BegichMark BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE (D-Alaska), Sen. Dan CoatsDan CoatsGOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing Budowsky: GOP summer of scandal The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ind.) and former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) to offer the only major bipartisan tax reform plan in the last two decades. 

Various pieces of Wyden’s bill could serve as a template for tax reform discussions in Congress’s lame-duck session. He and Coats have found common ground on how to treat the tricky issue of capital gains taxes by creating a new 35 percent exclusion and progressive rate structure for dividend and capital gains income. Wealthy individuals who earn most of their income from capital gains could see their tax rate jump to about 22.5 percent from the current 15 percent.

“We spent a lot of time working with groups all across the spectrum, from retirees to various funds, and we got a pretty good reaction to that,” Wyden said. “I made that available to various members of the leadership.”

Inviting greater participation from Baucus and rank-and-file members offers rewards and risks. The members of the Finance panel have policy expertise and an array of ideas that could be useful for reaching a solution. But as more lawmakers get involved, the negotiations grow progressively unwieldy and time-consuming. 

Important negotiations have been taken out of Baucus’s hands at several points since Obama took office in 2009. 

Reid took over the crafting of the 2010 Affordable Care Act after Baucus spent months working toward a bipartisan agreement with Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Mike EnziMike EnziFive takeaways from Trump's first budget proposal Eliminate Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980 to create jobs Trump releases budget that slashes government programs MORE (R-Wyo.) and Grassley.

In 2011, Reid appointed Baucus to a group of negotiators headed by Vice President Biden tasked with reaching an agreement to raise the debt limit. But after the group hit a wall, Reid took over the job and hammered out the Budget Control Act in a marathon session with BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner: Tax reform is 'just a bunch of happy talk' Lobbying World Jordan won't run for Oversight gavel MORE, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee Top GOP senators tell Trump to ditch Paris climate deal MORE (Ky.), House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and senior advisers to the president. 

And Reid took tax bills straight to the Senate floor on multiple occasions, skipping the Finance panel. Those measures include legislation to end tax breaks for oil and gas companies, to extend the payroll tax holiday and to set a minimum 30 percent tax rate for wealthy earners.

Sean Neary, Baucus’s spokesman, expressed confidence his boss would play a central role in deliberations over the fiscal cliff. 

“I think it’s inevitable, with his position and committee and expertise, he’s part of the equation no matter what,’ Neary said. “There are a lot of members who want to be helpful, as opposed to sitting on the sideline. Sen. Baucus has his own ideas as well. 

“I’m confident he’ll be part of any team to work to find a solution to the fiscal cliff,” he said.