A few weeks ago, I took a look at U.S. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and how one man can use one committee chairmanship (in this case, the Senate Finance Committee chairmanship) to obstruct, undermine and destroy the agenda of an entire political party and progressive movement. Today, we get another example - one so egregious that it is allowing Republican senators to righteously attack Democrats as selling out to K Street lobbyists. And what, pray tell, is one senior Democrat's response? That the whole pay-to-play culture is all just "a lot of fun."
On the front page of the Washington Post's business section, we get this story about the current state of the minimum wage bill:
"Democrats have stripped out a variety of contentious tax measures that had been tied to the minimum-wage legislation, under pressure from some of the nation's largest business lobbies. Gone is a measure that would have restricted what executives and other highly paid employees can place in deferred-compensation plans, one of the most popular benefits in corporate America. Gone is a proposal to deny tax deductions for fines and penalties associated with lawsuits. And gone are measures to target a variety of corporate tax shelters. The demise of these measures infuriated one of their chief sponsors, who yesterday accused Democrats of 'caving in to K Street, pure and simple.' "Frankly, I thought it would be easier to close tax loopholes and tax shelters with Democrats in control of Congress than Republicans, and I've been totally dismayed,' Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said in an interview. 'Democratic leaders blew it for small business.' Carol Guthrie, spokeswoman for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), defended the minimum-wage package, saying Baucus 'fully intends to revisit . . . provisions not included.'"
Understand that Grassley's comments signal that Baucus actually had the support of his ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee to enact all of these progressive reforms. Yet, incredibly, he went ahead and stripped out these measures anyway.
Why, you ask? Maybe this story in the Billings Gazette about Baucus setting up a joint lobbyist fundraising operation with Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel has something to do with it. As the story notes, the new PAC allows"donors to make one campaign contribution to both chairmen who oversee taxes, trade and major entitlement programs." You are a lobbyist and want something stripped out of a bill? Just write a check to the new PAC and - poof! - your wish is magically granted. And this formula has been quite impressive. In just the first three months of this year, the PAC has vacuumed in $144,000 - that's $12,000 a week, for those who are counting.
Most hilarious, of course, are the denials about what the PAC is set up to do:
"Baucus Chief of Staff Jim Messina said the account is a way for two longtime friends to help each other and their re-election committees. 'They have a lot of fun together,' said. "They like each other and now they're the top two tax people in the country and this seemed like a good way to raise money for the campaign together and spend time together.'...Messina said the account would 'absolutely not' allow people interested in the issues that come before the panels to have more influence by donating to both chairmen at once."
Yes, folks - Baucus's office thinks we are so absolutely stupid that we will believe that two lawmakers from totally opposite parts of the country have set up a joint fundraising operation as a way for two good buddies to horse around and have "fun" - not because it provides a convenient, efficient receptacle for pay-to-play cash (Note to Baucus staff: At the absolute minimum, we'd at least like you to take an extra 5 minutes out of your busy cocktail party schmoozing schedules in DC to cook up better fairy tales for the folks back home - we like our bullshit a little less raw and a little more sugarcoated - it gives us the shred of hope that you don't think we are all complete morons).
This little anecdote is the Hostile Takeover of our government - and shows why the election of a congressional Democratic majority is no excuse for the progressive movement to back down. There's lots of work to be done keeping the pressure on.