Max Baucus, the powerful veteran Montana Democrat who’d gotten cross-ways with the White House on a number of issues this year as he looked ahead to a tough re-election battle in Montana, announced today that he’ll retire instead. Retirements are usually bad news for the incumbent’s party, but in this case it’s probably a net win for Democrats. Baucus isn’t popular, Montana Democrats have a strong candidate in the form of former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, and freed from re-election concerns Baucus will have less incentive to distance himself from the party leadership.
The people who are really going to suffer here are the small army of former Baucus staffers working as lobbyists. Any veteran legislator ends up creating a K Street trail of former staffers, but Baucus was a golden ticket. As a Montana Democrat, his vote is less predictable and partisan than that of a Vermont or Massachusetts Democrat, so he’s open to persuasion on a wider range of topics. And as chairman of the Finance Committee, he leads a panel that’s subject to much more lobbying than other important committees such as Judiciary or Foreign Affairs. Ties to Max Baucus, in other words, have been some of the most lucrative around. Research shows that lobbyists earn wage premia for both issue expertise and connections but the connections premium is larger. So the former Baucus staffers working on health care and tax issues aren’t going to be out on the streets, but are going to substantially less hot commodities.