WASHINGTON – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana said Tuesday he will retire at the end of his term after a career of enormous power and notable independence.
“I don’t want to die here with my boots on. There is life beyond Congress,” the 71-year-old Baucus said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
He became the eighth senator to announce retirement plans for 2014, and the sixth Democrat. One public poll recently suggested he would have faced a difficult challenge if he had sought a seventh term.
In a brief statement, President Obama said Baucus “has been a leader on a broad range of issues that touch the lives of Americans across the country,” such as major tax and health care legislation.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and Baucus’ frequent legislative partner, was complimentary, too. “We ran the Finance Committee for 10 years together, and every bill except for three or four was bipartisan,” he said in a prepared statement.
In a written statement, Baucus sketched an ambitious agenda for the rest of his term, topped by an overhaul of the tax code.
Baucus was elected to the Senate in 1978 after two terms in the House. He became the top Democrat on the Finance Committee in early 2001. He has held the position ever since on the panel, which has jurisdiction over taxes, Medicare, Medicaid, health care and trade.
The panel has a long tradition of bipartisanship, but Baucus ascended to power in an era of increasing partisanship in Congress.
Many Democrats were unhappy when he worked with Republicans to enact the tax cuts that President George W. Bush won in 2001, and then again in 2004 when Congress pushed through a GOP plan to create a new prescription drug benefit under Medicare.
In 2005, Baucus stood with fellow Democrats when Bush proposed legislation to partially privatize Social Security, an epic battle that ended in defeat for the president’s effort.
He played a central role in the enactment of Obama’s watershed health care legislation in 2010, although some inside his party complained that precious momentum was lost while he spent months on bipartisan negotiations that proved fruitless.