Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is retiring rather than seek re-election in 2014, according to two senior Democratic strategists familiar with his plans.
First elected in 1978, Baucus has been the top Democrat on the powerful committee since 2001.
The news comes as something of a surprise – Baucus had given every indication that he intended to run again, and was clearly trying to balance his party’s agenda with the ideological leanings of his red-state constituents.
As is always the case with these retirement announcements, there are a couple of angles to consider. The first is who’s likely to succeed Baucus once he gets a lobbying job departs from public service. In this case, Republicans will welcome the chance to compete in a state Mitt Romney won by 14 points, former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) is reportedly interested – he was rumored to be eyeing a primary race against Baucus – and would be a strong contender.
And then there’s the other question: what’s with all the retirements?
As we recently discussed, it’s only April – the year before the election – and seven senators are already headed for the exits. In the last Congress, there were 10 voluntary retirements, and in the Congress before that, there were seven, but those were announced over the course of two years.
By historical standards, we’re seeing quite a bit of turnover, and that doesn’t even include senators who lost or died while in office. Consider the numbers since 2009 (not counting folks like Paul Kirk and Carte Goodwin who briefly filled temporary vacancies):
* 111th Congress (2009-2010): 8 retirements, 5 resignations, 2 deaths, 2 defeats, 2 primary defeats
* 112th Congress (2011-2012): 10 retirements, 1 defeat, 1 resignation, 1 primary defeat
* 113th Congress (2013-2014): 8 retirements, 1 resignation, 1 death
Taken together, we’re looking at a Senate poised to lose at least 42 of its members since 2009 – and 25 of those 42 are voluntary retirements.
That’s a level of turnover I might expect to see for a store at the mall, not in the U.S. Senate.
What’s driving this? Why are so many senators, most of whom would have been re-elected if they chose to run again, leaving their exclusive club?
We can only speculate, of course, but I have to wonder whether being a senator is a whole lot less fun that it used to be – the chamber just isn’t a satisfying place to be right now. Republican abuse of filibuster rules have made it nearly impossible to do much of anything, and with a radicalized House majority, even if the Senate can pass something, it’s likely to die in the lower chamber.
Senators effectively just spin their wheels, unable to govern, leaving both rookies and veteran senators alike feeling frustrated.
Maybe members should give institutional reforms another look?