President Barack Obama's planned visit to Bozeman next Friday, where he's expected to hold a "town hall" meeting on health care reform, may be a calculated move to pressure Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus in his home state.
That's liberal political columnist David Sirota's interpretation, at least. Sirota prophetically told the Indy more than two weeks ago, during an interview for a profile of Baucus, that Obama coming to Montana, while unlikely, might force the senator to drop a plan to tax health care benefits, which if passed would break one of Obama's main campaign promises.
“Baucus seems to have suggested that he thinks it’s better and more popular and better policy to tax people’s health care benefits rather than to do a surcharge tax on people making more than $250,000 a year," said Sirota, who worked as a strategist during Gov. Brian Schweitzer's 2004 campaign. "The politics of that are absurd, they’re really absurd..."
"If Max wins out on that fight," Sirota continued, "he will have created an enormous national political problem for Barack Obama in the sense that Obama’s big campaign promise was, ‘I’m not going to raise taxes on people making under $250,000 a year.’ Taxing people’s health care benefits would clearly do exactly that, which would be a major Republican point of attack in the 2012 election. That would literally be 'read my lips' all over again.
“So I can’t believe Max is even going near that. Because Obama’s political people are smart. They have to know that that’s a no-no for them…Max is really playing with fire. Because he’s potentially creating a political problem for a politician who’s arguably as popular, if not more popular, than him, even in Montana. I haven’t looked at a poll, but the last thing Max Baucus wants is Barack Obama coming into Montana and saying, ‘Max Baucus is not doing the right thing.’
"By the way, as just a side note, it’ll never happen—well, I never say never—but can you imagine how quickly Max would fold if Barack Obama showed up in Bozeman or Missoula and pushed him? He would fold in one second. The reason he would fold goes back to his political equation [which, Sirota opined earlier in the interview, is that he sells out on second-tier issues that don't get a lot of attention, but he's very careful on high-profile issues that make the front page of the papers in Montana]. If Barack Obama comes into Montana where Max’s own support is a mile wide and an inch deep, he would fold in one second.”
We'll see. Details of Obama's visit remain sketchy. Rumor's that he'll hold an event at an airport hangar at Gallatin Field Airport and then head to Big Sky with Baucus and Sen. Jon Tester.