CQ Roll Call
November 08, 2012

113th Congress: Senate Finance Committee

With jurisdiction over the tax code and entitlement programs, the panel will be ground zero in any major effort to bring down budget deficits. And as Congress tries to avert the fiscal cliff of broad tax increases and deep spending cuts, the panel is likely to be active, with Montana DemocratMax Baucus a central figure as he begins his seventh consecutive year as committee chairman.

Baucus has been steeped in recent fiscal negotiations, most recently serving on the joint committee on deficit reduction that was created as part of last year’s law to raise the debt ceiling. He also sat on President Obama’s bipartisan debt commission and participated in the debt discussion group led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Any sweeping deficit reduction plan would likely include a tax overhaul, an elusive but widely sought goal that lawmakers in both parties believe may be within reach in 2013. In a June speech describing his vision of a comprehensive overhaul, Baucus said he supported a tax code with fewer tax breaks and lower tax rates that would spur economic growth.

“Since the last major tax reform in 1986, the world has changed drastically,” Baucus said. “Our tax code hasn’t kept up, and now it’s acting as a brake on our economy when we need to move at full speed.”

Baucus has helped lay the groundwork for a tax overhaul, holding a series of joint hearings with his House counterpart, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican.

Baucus has a long record of bipartisan cooperation. He supported President George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cut and was one of a handful of Senate Democrats to work with House Republicans on the 2003 Medicare prescription drug law. He worked tirelessly, if unsuccessfully, to secure GOP support for the 2010 health care overhaul.

With rising health care spending as a major long-term driver of government spending, changes to the programs might be on the table. But Senate Democrats are sure to move cautiously; they have opposed proposals pushed by House Republicans to restructure Medicare and Medicaid.

On trade policy, Baucus is typically a strong proponent of opening up foreign markets to the United States, particularly if it will help Montana beef producers. Last year, he helped write a bipartisan legislative agreement that led to passage of trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, as well as assistance for workers displaced by global trade. When the administration ultimately requests fast-track authority for consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is currently being negotiated, support from Baucus will be critical.

Baucus has a cordial relationship with ranking Republican Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, who might be in more of a mood to negotiate having survived a tea-party-backed primary challenge. Meanwhile, there will be new faces on the panel with the retirement of four senators: DemocratsKent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, and Republicans Jon Kyl of Arizona and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.