Baucus pleases, breaks ranks 

Minimum Wage

Sen. Max Baucus became a hero to Democrats across the country last week after he delivered a passionate speech from the Senate floor Jan. 10 criticizing the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq and admitting that he’d been wrong to vote in favor of it.

“Mr. President, it is time for our combat troops to come home from Iraq,” Baucus proclaimed to the cheers of liberal commentators everywhere.

The honeymoon was short-lived.

By the end of the day many of those same commentators went to work dismantling Baucus for his decision, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to lead an effort to attach a tax-break package to a minimum wage bill that had already passed out of the House of Representatives unmolested.

Baucus maintains that the tax measures need to be added to the minimum wage legislation for it to have a chance of passing the Senate, which is more narrowly divided along party lines than the House.

But Helena-based writer and Democratic political operative David Sirota isn’t buying it. Sirota, who wrote on his website Jan. 10 “Today, I Am Proud Max Baucus is My U.S. Senator,” told the Independent Monday that Baucus is cutting the legs out from under fellow Democrats by forfeiting his leverage before the debate has even begun.

“No good businessman starts negotiating by giving away what the opponent wants before the negotiations even begin,” Sirota said. “And I don’t subscribe to the idea that you can’t get a minimum wage passed in the Senate unless you add tax cuts. The majority of Repulicans don’t want to vote against something that 75 percent of the public supports.”

That same day Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein put an even finer point on the critique: “Real Democrats know that raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do—economically, politically, morally. The question is why they have chosen a Senate Finance Chairman who can’t articulate that position without equivocation or apology even before the first vote is cast.”

Ouch.

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