Baucus asked a Montana newspaper editorial board 40 years ago which party he should choose to run on to gain a state legislative seat, and he has ever since often behaved like a Republican, a thorn in the party's side and also a member with deep clout. Switching to a Democrat with a far more liberal voting record on a broad array of matters would be a vast improvement at the top of the Senate's two or three most powerful committees.
For one thing, Wyden hasn't used his office as a training ground and springboard for would-be tax lobbyists on his staff as Baucus has. Wyden has also given at least soft support for filibuster reform. Baucus has worked diligently behind the scenes to ensure that nothing substantial occurs on that front.
Outside the tax and finance realm, Wyden has been counterposed to Baucus on issue after issue. The Oregonian was one of 23 senators to vote against authorization to use military force against Iraq in 2002. He voted for redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq to Afghanistan in 2007, a move that would have seen tens of thousands of troops redeployed back to the States. He also opposed the two-part troop surge that President Obama ordered into Afghanistan in 2009. Baucus voted for the AUMF. He opposed redeployment. He supported the surge.
Wyden supported the Manchin-Toomey background-check compromise and the Feinstein assault weapons ban last week. Baucus voted against both.
Wyden voted against the gay-hating Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Baucus voted for it and didn't come out in favor of marriage equality until June last year.
The Oregon senator has been a rare stand-out on civil liberties. He was one of a small number of senators who opposed the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2006 and again in 2011. He has stood against cyber-security bills that have had civil libertarians boiling. With another handful of senators, he has been adamant regarding the need for narrowing the executive branch's legal arguments favoring the use of armed drones for targeted killings. On that matter, he went so far as to join Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky to filibuster the appointment of John Brennan as CIA director.
When it comes to tax policy and other issues under the finance committee's purview, there is also considerable distance between Wyden and Baucus. In crafting the legislation that created the Affordable Care Act, Baucus never seriously considered a single payer plan, something Wyden backed, and his efforts gave the giant pharmaceutical industry just about everything it could have wished for. Baucus was also one of the two Democrats invited to help develop the industry-friendly Medicare prescription plan that included a deal not to bid down drug prices. Wyden has pushed legislation to negotiate those prices downward.
Please continue reading more below the fold about Wyden as possible finance chairman.
Baucus favored Bush's 2005 plan to partially privatize Social Security. Baucus led opposition to Bush's 2005 plan to partially privatize Social Security. Wyden opposed the plan.
On the other hand, Wyden worked in 2002 with conservative Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch on a comprehensive health care plan, the Healthy Americans Act, that, among other things, would have partially privatized Medicaid and had employers cash out their employee health-care plans and pass the savings along to workers in additional wages—as if the latter would ever happen. In 2012, Wyden caught considerable grief from fellow Democrats when he teamed up with Republican Rep. Paul Ryan on a plan designed to overhaul Medicare. He subsequently retreated from that plan.
Having met with Republicans in secret for weeks before announcing the plan, Baucus was the major force on the Democratic side of the aisle in getting the Bush tax cuts of 2001 passed. He switched to vote against the tax cuts of 2003. Wyden voted against the cuts both years.
But, working with Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who was at the time the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and later with Republican Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, Wyden developed a comprehensive tax reform bill that got positive notice from the right-wing Heritage Foundation, not least because it would have done away various exemptions, the alternative minimum tax and the estate tax permanently as well as instituting a 24 percent corporate income tax.
Baucus backed the Bush financial bailouts in 2008. Wyden opposed them.
Ezra Klein has has depicted Wyden as an optimistic wonk:
It’s not that Wyden’s proposals are perfect. But they’re serious, thoughtful efforts to map out principled, bipartisan compromises. And Wyden is not shy about bringing them up — in a committee hearing or a television interview or even when he’s jammed into an elevator with a few other senators.Measured by any gauge, Wyden stands well to Baucus's left and isn't beholden to the industries that are so understandably fond of the retiring Montanan. But there's little doubt from his record that Wyden as chairman would continue to seek bipartisan deals with some of the more conservative senators at a time when conservativism has moved ever further to the right, making nearly any bipartisan agreement a deal with the devil from the get-go.