That paralysis of taxes and spending has been a central feature of Obama’s presidency, and Baucus said that when the president called him Tuesday about his retirement, Baucus quickly turned the discussion to tax reform. “They’re going to get tired of me,” Baucus said in an interview, adding that White House officials are still searching for a strategy for ending the stalemate.
Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax issues, said his decision not to seek reelection frees him from the demands of a campaign and will also allow him to focus on new trade agreements and implementation of the Obama health-care initiative, which he played a major role in drafting.
Baucus at some times has been a key Obama ally and at others a thorn in his side. Shortly after Obama took office, Baucus crafted large portions of the massive 2009 economic stimulus package and played a key role in drafting the president’s health-care plan. Last week he opposed Obama’s gun-control proposal, the failure of which was a crushing defeat for the president.
Baucus defended his gun vote as a representation of his state’s libertarian views, adding that nobody from the White House or the Democratic leadership tried to get him to vote the other way.
“I didn’t get my arm twisted by anybody on that. Because that’s Montana,” Baucus said. “I have a sign on my desk: ‘Montana comes first.’ ”
Baucus infuriated Democratic colleagues in 2001, just ahead of a potentially tough reelection fight, when he worked with Republicans to write one of the largest tax cuts in American history just months after George W. Bush won the White House. In 2003, he helped Bush pass his Medicare prescription drug plan, but in 2005, he led the opposition to Bush’s effort to partially privatize Social Security.
Baucus, 71, has spent most of his adult life in Washington, having been elected to the House in 1974 and to the Senate in 1978. He explained his decision to retire in squarely personal terms, saying he had been wrestling with the idea since his mother died just over a year ago.
“It made me realize I’m not immortal. We’re all mortals,” Baucus said. “I don’t want to leave here when I’m 80 years old. There are things I want to do. . . . I want to see what life is like outside the United States Senate.”
With more than $5 million already in his campaign war chest, Baucus had been aggressively raising funds for reelection in a state that gave Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney a 13-percentage-point victory in 2012.