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

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben Baucus2020 Dems pose a big dilemma for Schumer Steady American leadership is key to success with China and Korea Orrin Hatch, ‘a tough old bird,’ got a lot done in the Senate 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. 

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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Congress fails miserably: For Asian-Americans, immigration proposals are personal attacks Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees 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 Grant HatchOvernight Finance: NAFTA defenders dig in | Tech pushes Treasury to fight EU on taxes | AT&T faces setback in merger trial | Dems make new case against Trump tax law | Trump fuels fight over gas tax What sort of senator will Mitt Romney be? Not a backbencher, even day one Lawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves MORE (Utah), the ranking Republican on Finance, should be “very much involved.”

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRestoring fiscal sanity requires bipartisan courage GOP congressman slams primary rival for Ryan donations Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future 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 Davis RyanRepublicans are avoiding gun talks as election looms The Hill's 12:30 Report Flake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan MORE (R-Wis.) and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to review fiscal-cliff proposals. 

But Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWATCH: There is no Trump-Russia collusion and the media should stop pushing this The demise of debate in Congress ‘North by Northwest,’ the Carter Page remake 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 CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinWashington puts Ethiopia's human rights abusers on notice Overnight Defense: Mattis vows Dreamers in military won't be deported | Pentagon unsure if military parade will be in Washington | Dem bill would block funds for parade Dems introduce bills to block funds for Trump's proposed parade 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 WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees MORE (D-Ore.), who has teamed up with Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter 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 CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsTop state election official questions why Trump is downplaying threat of Russian election interference: report Russian bots turn to gun control after Florida high school shooting: report The case alleging Russian collusion is not closed 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 EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziThe 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework Mulvaney remarks on Trump budget plan spark confusion Overnight Finance: Breaking down Trump's budget | White House finally releases infrastructure plan | Why it faces a tough road ahead | GOP, Dems feud over tax-cut aftermath | Markets rebound 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 Andrew BoehnerRestoring fiscal sanity requires bipartisan courage GOP congressman slams primary rival for Ryan donations Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future MORE, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure 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.