By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org
HELENA – U.S. Sen. Max Baucus told Montana state lawmakers last week that he clings true to a particular aphorism: When you hold certain advantages, you must utilize them.
It’s an idiom certainly not lost on ex-Baucus staffers whose lobbying clients profited greatly from a tax package the Montana senator created.
Montana’s senior senator, a Democrat up for re-election in 2014, just won’t talk about how lobbying clients of former staffer reaped huge rewards from billions in corporate handouts quietly inserted into the so-called “fiscal cliff” deal at the last minute.
“Well, no, the main thing is just keep our eye on the ball here,” Montana’s senior senator said, deflecting a question about the arrangement from the Great Falls Tribune’s John Adams.
The furor began more than a week ago when the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney detailed how more than $60 billion in corporate handouts found their way into the fiscal cliff bill. The handouts were copy-and-pasted by the White House into the bill, using the Baucus-created Family and Business Tax Cut Certainty Act of 2012 as the blueprint.
Things only grew worse for Baucus when Carney dug even deeper, finding that the multinational corporations benefiting from the handouts, known in Washington-speak as “tax extenders,” employ a number of the senator’s former staffers who’ve left public service for greener pastures.
Here’s a snippet of what Carney wrote about ex-Baucus staffers:
Pick any one of the special-interest tax breaks extended by the cliff deal, and you’re likely to find a former Baucus aide who lobbied for it on behalf of a large corporation or industry organization.
Baucus won’t talk about his former staffers benefiting from the deal, though.
The tax handouts in the fiscal cliff deal will cost the U.S. Treasury at least $60 billion and go to some of America’s largest companies.
General Electric, for example, will benefit twice from the deal. The package included $12.1 billion in tax breaks for the wind-energy industry, a perk surely to benefit the nation’s largest producer of wind turbines, GE.
The package also extends a tax break for interest earned on overseas profits. While that might not sound substantial, critics claim that the loophole allows Wall Street banks and companies like GE to shift profits overseas, effectively avoiding U.S. taxes.
The bill also includes breaks for improvements to racetracks, companies producing rum in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, movie production companies and Americans who buy two-or three-wheeled electric-powered vehicles.
Baucus spoke publicly about those giveaways for the first time Friday, defending the work he did as bipartisan.
“Frankly, I’ve got to be proud of myself,” Baucus told reporters. “Congress was basically totally dysfunctional on this general subject so I got the committee together and said, ‘OK, everybody here, Republicans and Democrats. Let’s work together on this question.’”
Baucus, seeking to reframe the debate in his favor, told the media that members of the Senate Finance Committee he chairs worked together to slash waste and “dead wood” from the collection of tax extenders embedded in federal code.
“And we did reduce some of them by tens of billions of — got rid of some of them,” the senator explained. “My goal is to get rid of as many as we possibly can and I’m hopeful that during tax reform this next year we will be able to eliminate even more.”
This isn’t the first time revolving-door charges have hit Baucus. Earlier this year, Watchdog.org chronicled Elizabeth Fowler’s travels between the public and lobbying sectors. Fowler worked for Baucus for a number of year before joining a one of the nation’s largest health care firms. When Baucus spearheaded an effort to reform the nation’s health care system, he again hired Fowler to write the bill.
After she helped kill the public option, a government-run health insurance option opposed by the country’s insurers, she joined President Barack Obama’s administration for a short time before returning to a lobbying firm.
Contact Dustin Hurst at Dustin@Watchdog.org or @DustinHurst via Twitter.