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Sending Baucus to China Removes Democratic Critic of Obamacare.

Image: Sending Baucus to China Removes Democratic Critic of Obamacare

By Sandy Fitzgerald

Sending Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus off as the next U.S. ambassador to China could solve several problems for President Barack Obama, including removing one ofObamacare’s most vocal opponents from Capitol Hill.

Earlier this year, the outspoken lawmaker famously referred to Obamacare as a “huge train wreck,” saying it would be a failure if the government couldn’t afford money for research, reports The Washington Post. 

Baucus has also compared the launch to “Humpty Dumpty” with questions about whether the website could be eventually successful.

Removing Baucus from Washington means taking the outspoken critic away from his chairmanship of the Finance Committee since 2007. Baucus plans to retire next year, and ordinarily would be followed in the seat by second-ranking Democrat member Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va.

However, like Baucus, Rockefeller plans to retire after next year, so Baucus’ seat, if he leaves early, is expected to be taken by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the current chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senate aides told The Washington Post. Wyden has criticized the White House’s healthcare plans in the past, but he is not as strident with his opposition as Baucus.

But there are other possible reasons beyond Obamacare for the president to nominate Baucus, The Post reports.

Baucus, 72, is leaving office next year, but Republicans are expected to take the red state next year with Rep. Steve Daines.

However, if Baucus steps down early, The Post speculates, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock can appoint a Democratic replacement who would be able to run for a full six-year term in 2014. Lt. Gov. John Walsh is already running for the seat, but if he is appointed to it early, he would be the incumbent when the election takes place, giving him an advantage over other candidates.

Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina, who is Baucus’ former top hand, may also be considering a campaign, The Post reports, so his name could also be in the short list to fill Baucus’ seat.

Baucus though, does have extensive experience in China, having visited eight times. He also lead U.S. efforts in the 1990s to persuade China to enter the World Trade Organization and worked to establish Permanent Normal Trade Relations between the two countries.

In addition, Baucus has hosted Chinese trade delegations in both Montana and Washington D.C.

Related Stories:

Top Democrat Baucus Sees ‘Huge Train Wreck’ for Obamacare
Top Democrat Baucus, Head of Finance Panel, to Retire

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

IRS Scandal Could Boost Tax Reform Efforts.

The storm engulfing the Internal Revenue Service could provide a boost for lawmakers who want to simplify U.S. tax laws — a code that is so complicated many Americans buy commercial software to help them or simply hire someone else to do it all.

Members of Congress from both political parties say the current uproar — over the targeting of conservative political groups — underscores that overly complex tax provisions have given the IRS too much discretion in interpreting and enforcing the law.

“This is the perfect example of why we need tax reform,” said Republican Rep. Tim Griffin of Arkansas, a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. “If you want to diminish and limit the power of the IRS, you have got to reduce the complexity of the tax code and take them out of it.”

There are still formidable obstacles to completing a major tax overhaul this year or next. Democrats and Republicans start off with opposite views on whether the government should levy more taxes and on who should pay what share. The two sides also don’t trust one another, making it difficult to envision agreement on which popular tax breaks to keep and which to scrap.

In a report earlier this year, national taxpayer advocate Nina E. Olson ranked complexity as the most serious problem facing both taxpayers and the IRS. People simply trying to comply with the rules often make inadvertent errors and overpay or underpay, she said, while others “often find loopholes that enable them to reduce or eliminate their tax liabilities.”

The IRS scandal has little, if anything, to do with most everyday taxpayers, yet some lawmakers hope the attention will help galvanize support for the first major tax overhaul since 1986.

A little over two weeks ago, the IRS revealed that agents assigned to a special team in Cincinnati had targeted tea party and other conservative groups for additional, often burdensome scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status. The targeting lasted more than 18 months during the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns, hindering the groups’ ability to raise money, according to a report by the agency’s inspector general.

The ensuing storm has cost two top IRS officials their jobs, and a third has been placed on paid administrative leave. Investigations by Congress and the Justice Department are underway.

The IRS was screening the groups’ applications because agents were trying to determine their level of political activity. IRS regulations say that tax-exempt social welfare organizations can engage in some political activity but the activity cannot be their primary mission. It is a vague standard that agents struggled to apply, according to the inspector general’s report.

Lawmakers in both parties have complained for years that overtly political groups on the left and right have taken advantage of the rules, allowing them to claim tax-exempt status and hide the identities of their donors.

“There are countless political organizations at both ends of the spectrum masquerading as social welfare groups in order to skirt the tax code,” said Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “Once the smoke of the current controversy clears, we need to examine the root of this issue and reform the nation’s vague tax laws pertaining to these groups.”

Baucus’ counterpart in the House, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, said he, too, thinks the scandal could boost efforts to simplify the tax code.

“The complexity of the law didn’t require the IRS to target people for their political beliefs,” said Camp, a Michigan Republican. But, he added, “I think giving the IRS less discretion is going to be important, and that’s what a simplified code would do.”

Camp and Baucus have been working for months on the herculean task of simplifying a tax code that has undergone about 5,000 changes since 2001. At nearly 4 million words, Camp likes to say the code is “10 times the size of the Bible with none of the good news.”

Their committees have held dozens of hearings over the past two years and the two chairmen have started a website,, where they solicit ideas from readers on how to change the laws. Camp has created bipartisan working groups of Ways and Means committee members to develop options for simplifying the various sections of the tax code. He has published several preliminary proposals.

Some Republicans hope to use an upcoming debate over increasing the federal government’s borrowing authority to trigger action on tax change. The government is expected to reach the limit of its borrowing authority by early fall, raising the possibility of another debt standoff like the one in 2011 that brought it to the brink of default.

Details are fluid, but congressional aides have been working on mechanisms to streamline the process of passing a tax package, in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, perhaps guaranteeing floor votes on bills approved by the tax-writing committees in the House and Senate. Camp and Baucus chair those committees.

President Barack Obama, however, has said he won’t negotiate over raising the debt ceiling.

Obama has called for an overhaul of corporate taxes, and he laid some groundwork to accomplish that in his latest budget proposal. The president has also said he wants to do comprehensive tax reform as part of a broad budget deal that cuts spending and reformulates entitlement programs. Such a grand bargain has proven elusive.

Camp and Baucus say they are open to a process that links tax reform to the debt ceiling. But Baucus warns, “I don’t want to be part of something that’s political or partisan. But I do want to be part of something that’s practical and pragmatic that looks like it’s going to advance the ball.”

Baucus, who has been in the Senate since 1978, announced in April he won’t run for re-election in 2014. He said he will focus much of his remaining time in the Senate trying to steer a tax package through Congress.

Camp says he is committed to passing a tax bill out of his committee by the end of the year. There is no guarantee the full House would take up the bill, but Speaker John Boehner has signaled his support for the effort by reserving the prestigious bill number HR 1 for a tax overhaul measure.

Lawmakers in both parties are convinced that simpler, easier-to-understand tax laws would spur economic activity. But there are significant partisan differences.

The Republican recipe calls for reducing or eliminating tax breaks that benefit targeted taxpayers, and using all the additional revenue to reduce overall rates for everyone. At the end of the day, the tax system would raise about the same amount of money, but businesses could focus on being more efficient instead of trying to take advantage of targeted tax breaks, supporters say.

Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress also want to reduce or eliminate various tax breaks. Overall income tax rates would be lower, but the wealthy would pay more each year because they would lose certain exemptions, deductions and credits.

Choosing which tax breaks to scale back is a big hurdle. For all of the work Camp and Baucus have done building support for the idea of tax reform, they have yet to answer hard questions about which breaks to scrap.

That’s because Americans like their credits, deductions and exemptions — the provisions that make the tax law so complicated in the first place. In exchange for lower tax rates, would workers be willing to pay taxes on employer-provided health benefits or on contributions to their retirement plans? How would homeowners feel about losing the mortgage interest deduction?

Those are among the three biggest tax breaks in the tax code, according to congressional estimates. Together, they are projected to save taxpayers nearly $300 billion this year.

“We’re going to have to come to that,” Baucus said. “Those are very big important questions and we’re going to tackle them.”

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Republicans Forge Ahead on Plan to Rewrite Tax Code.

House Republicans are beginning a push this week for the first tax code rewrite in more than quarter of a century, with Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp briefing small groups of lawmakers with discussion draft bills his staff has produced.

Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy will join Camp in holding the briefings, Politico reports. Meanwhile, Camp has met privately with every freshman Republican representative to discuss rewriting the tax code.

The tax code rewrite will likely be a bipartisan effort between the Senate and House. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, who announced his retirement Tuesday, said he will spend much of the rest of the year-and-a-half he has left in office working on “simplifying and improving the Tax Code.”

The combination of Baucus and Camp, who is term limited, could bring reform to a tax code that both parties think is too cluttered with entitlements to businesses and individuals to work well.

But no-one is suggesting overhaul will be simple. The rewrite could compete with a new farm bill or a new highway bill in the 113th Congress, but few Republican lawmakers believe all three issues will be completed.

An added complication is that Democrats and Republicans have different priorities. While the GOP wants to cut taxes, Democratic leaders want to use the changes to raise revenue.
Camp’s first draft is expected to rework how multinational corporation taxes are collected, avoiding the current system of allowing companies to leave more than $1 trillion deposited offshore to avoid taxes back in the United States.

The Michigan lawmaker has also won attention for his financial transactions draft bill, which requires trades to use market-to-market accounting rule.

Camp, who first came to Congress in 1990 at the same time as Speaker John Boehner, could seek a waiver from his party to serve as committee chairman for another two years. However, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, a powerful force with credits including a 2012 run for vice-president, reportedly is very interested in taking Camp’s Ways and Means gavel.

Meanwhile, Baucus said his decision to forgo reelection will give him more “time and energy” to work on the tax code revision.

“I am not turning out to pasture because there is important work left to do,” Baucus told The Hill. “I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Sandy Fitzgerald

Three Dissenting Democrat Senators Under the Gun in 2014.

As angry as President Barack Obama was last week at senators who killed the Manchin-Toomey compromise on expanding gun background checks, he was careful not to focus his fury on the four senators from his own Democratic Party who voted “no” rather than “aye.”

Had the four Democrats flipped their votes, the White House would have needed just one more Republican to break a filibuster blocking consideration of the bill.

Three of the Senate Democrats’ “Fatal Four” — Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Max Baucus of Montana — are up for re-election in 2014. They all face stiff battles. The fourth, freshman Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, isn’t up for election until 2018.

But it is unlikely that their votes on the gun measure will be a difference-maker in their races.

As strong as the National Rifle Association and other gun-owners groups are, and as much as the White House is trying to make gun control a “red-meat issue” in 2014, the gun debate just isn’t a priority in uncertain economic times.

Days before the vote on Manchin-Toomey, a Gallup Poll of likely voters nationwide showed that of 16 major issues cited as concerns, gun control was ranked “most important” by only 4 percent — tied with education and the situation in North Korea.

In contrast, the “economy in general” topped the list with 24 percent of voters rating it “most important,” and “unemployment and jobs” was second, with 18 percent.

But could this single vote on a procedural measure dealing with gun control spell the difference between re-election and defeat for any of the three “renegade” Democrats? A closer look at their races suggests otherwise.

As Arkansas grows increasingly more Republican, and former GOP Rep. Asa Hutchinson appears a shoo-in for the governorship, Pryor is in political hot water as freshman GOP Rep. Tom Cotton is considered a strong challenger next year.

The Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund are running televised salvos reminding voters that Pryor voted for Obamacare, the stimulus package, and the Wall Street bailout.

In one of the tightest Senate races anywhere in 2008, Begich eked out a win over the late Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, days after the 40-year incumbent had been convicted in court on corruption charges.

Regardless of his vote on guns, Begich faces a stiff re-election battle from Republican Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, with a Harper Polling survey showing Begich leading Treadwell by an unimpressive 44 percent to 34 percent statewide.

And whatever the 71-year-old Baucus votes or says on gun control will be dwarfed by the role the Senate Finance Committee chairman does in crafting the budget and taxes.

A Public Policy Polling survey showed that among Montana Democrats, six-termer Baucus loses to former Gov. Brian Schweitzer — who has not said whether he will run or not — by a margin of 54 percent to 35 per cent. Among all voters, Baucus leads former GOP state Sen. Corey Stapleton 45 percent to 38 percent and GOP state Rep. Champ Edmunds 47 percent to 37 percent.

Will pro-gun voters think more of all three as a result of this vote? Probably not, but in the end it probably won’t matter much in terms of their survival or demise in November of next year.

In any close race a single issue can make the difference between victory and defeat, but in the cases of Baucus, Pryor and Begich, there are plenty of other issues for voters to ponder.

John Gizzi is a special columnist for

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By John Gizzi

Top Democrat Baucus Sees ‘Huge Train Wreck’ for Obamacare.

A top Democrat who helped write President Barack Obama’s health care law says he fears it is headed for a “huge train wreck.”

Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana confronted Obama’s health secretary Wednesday during a routine budget hearing that turned tense.

Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said he is “very concerned” that new health insurance marketplaces going live next year in every state will be a flop. Consumers and small business owners are not getting enough information, and the administration has not been forthcoming with lawmakers, he said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius blamed Congress for blocking implementation funding for the law, which is supposed to bring coverage to nearly 30 million uninsured Americans.

Baucus pressed Sebelius for details about how HHS will explain the law and raise awareness of its key provisions, which are supposed to take effect in just a matter of months, The Hill reported.

Editor’s Note: New ‘Obamacare Survival Guide’ Reveals Dangers Ahead for Your Healthcare

“I’m very concerned that not enough is being done so far — very concerned,” Baucus said.

Baucus wanted Sebelius to explain how her department will overcome entrenched misunderstandings about Obamacare, especially when it comes to small business.

“Small businesses have no idea what to do, what to expect,” Baucus said.

Baucus then asked Sebelius for specifics about how it is measuring public understanding of the law.

“You need data. Do you have any data? You’ve never given me data. You only give me concepts, frankly,” Baucus told Sebelius.

“I’m going to keep on this until I feel a lot better about it,” Baucus told Sebelius.

“For the marketplaces to work, people need to know about them,” he added. “People need to know their options and how to enroll.”

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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