Baucus: More Economic Stimulus Likely

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., expects more economic stimulus legislation will be needed when the new Congress convenes next year.

Baucus, an instrumental figure in negotiating the $700 billion federal bailout package earlier this month, told The Associated Press on Friday that additional steps will depend on the condition of the economy.

Baucus said possible proposals include tax provisions to help small businesses, relief from penalties for those who have to withdraw money from retirement accounts, extensions of unemployment benefits and an immediate increase on spending for some infrastructure projects.

“It depends on how things look, January and February next year,” Baucus said. “I support a combination that passes the smell test. The smell test is: it’s not wasteful, it’s efficient, it’s temporary, not permanent.”

Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said he doesn’t expect a push for another round of taxpayer rebate checks.

There could, however, be some sort of homeowner assistance, which he would support if it was directed at those caught in bad mortgages through no fault of their own. Baucus conceded it may be difficult to make that determination.

Ultimately, Baucus said long-term help for the economy is needed too. He said spiraling health care costs are a drain on the economy, and will only get worse if not reined in. He is proposing big changes in the system, and expects the issue will take center stage next year.

The nation also has to become more energy independent, Baucus said.

Polls have shown the federal bailout package is unpopular around the country and in Montana. A MSU-Billings poll this week found that 51 percent oppose the federal bailout, while 28 percent support and 21 percent are undecided.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., both voted against the plan amid worries it did not do enough to prevent the problem from happening again.

“I got enough so that I felt very comfortable in supporting the bill,” Baucus said. “We’ve got two choices in life. We try or do nothing.

“In this case, either we do nothing, we stand on the sidelines while the economy is going down the tubes or we try to make a bad situation a little bit better,” Baucus said.

In addition, Baucus said he fought for provisions that made him comfortable with the bill, including limits on executive compensation.

And he said he resisted the original White House proposal that Baucus said would have turned Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson into “King Hank,” and made sure the money would have to be repaid.

“I am quite confident that most of that $700 billion will be recouped, if not all, and there may be a gain,” Baucus said.

Baucus said he is concerned polls show most oppose the bailout, but said it reminds him of something legendary Montana U.S. Sen. Mike Mansfield told him long ago.

“I said something to him very sophomoric like, ‘Mike, if you do the right thing, people reward you,'” Baucus said. “He got a wry smile, his eye twinkled a little bit and he said, ‘Yep, but sometimes it takes a long time.’

“And that’s how I view this. And more fundamentally if people don’t like what I am doing they can boot me out,” Baucus said.