Baucus in the Headlines: Lots of Coverage, Little Info

By Beacon Staff

To find posts for the blog, Kellyn and I often troll national news sources for tidbits on Montana lawmakers that you might not find by reading the papers here. Gov. Brian Schweitzer makes an off-the-cuff remark regarding marijuana legalization on Bill Maher? Perfect! Livingston state Rep. Joel Boniek interviewed on Glenn Beck? Even better. But this method has led to having our blog revolve more and more around Sen. Max Baucus because, well, as the chief Senate architect of the proposed health care overhaul, he is in the news every single day – and we’re talking the front page of every national U.S. newspaper. What’s amazing to me is that despite such heavy coverage, he continues to be something of an enigma – not really opening up to any reporter on what is happening behind closed doors to the health care legislation.

Is Baucus butting heads with President Barack Obama over taxing benefits? Is he wasting time trying to gain a few token Republican votes so the eventual bill can be called “bipartisan” in the loosest sense of the word? Is he watering down the bill because of the hefty contributions he receives from lobbyists? Is the August recess going to have a significant effect on Congressional support on the bill? And if so, how will it affect Baucus, who is going to get an EARFUL next month from constituents who wholeheartedly support a single-payer option, and those who oppose the legislation altogether. The quotes he gave when he visited the state Legislature in February about the “stars being aligned” are more or less the same quotes he’s giving now. Despite the blanket coverage the issue is getting, it seems relatively clear to me no one in the media seems to have a good handle on where this legislation is heading – though I tend to believe NBC’s Chuck Todd when he says a bill called health care reform will pass; it’s just a question of what it does.

With all that said, it’s worth reading a piece by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post on what the scene looks like out side Baucus’ office right now, with cameramen staked out for weeks, lobbyists and Congressional leaders shuttling in and out, and yet, no real info from Baucus. From Milbank:

The rancor comes in large part because of what’s happening, or isn’t happening, in Room 511 of the Hart Building. Some say Baucus and his negotiating group are moving too quickly, while others say they are moving too slowly, and still others say too secretly and too cozily with lobbyists; as the lawmakers negotiated in Baucus’s office, the lobbyists who had gathered in the hall met with Senate staffers in another part of the chairman’s suite.

But Baucus appeared untroubled when he arrived for negotiations. He gave a high-five to one of the TV soundmen who had been staking out his office for weeks. “Did you get lunch?” he asked a cameraman. Yielding to complaints about their secrecy — President Obama, asked Wednesday about Baucus’s closed-door negotiations, said he would “welcome” C-SPAN cameras in the chairman’s office — the senators agreed to allow reporters and cameras in the room for a couple of minutes.

“No questions,” Baucus called out, but one was asked anyway: Did he agree with Obama that C-SPAN cameras should film their closed-door talks?

“Whatever he wants,” the chairman said with a smile.