Senator to retire: Max Baucus may Retire from Senate

Senator to retire - Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, seen here after voting last Wednesday against expanding background checks for gun purchases, will leave the Senate after 36 years.

Under friendly fire in the Capitol and squeezed politically at home, Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a man often at odds with fellow Democrats, announced Tuesday that he would retire in 2014 after almost four decades in Congress.

The decision by Mr. Baucus, 71, to forgo a seventh term brings to six the number of senior Senate Democrats who will not seek re-election next year, including many of the party’s most popular and venerable senators. Mr. Baucus, though, was known for frustrating Democratic leaders by opposing major party initiatives as well as his solo attempts to cut deals with Republicans.

Leadership efforts to go around Mr. Baucus may have contributed to his decision to leave the Senate. His votes last week against gun control legislation pushed by President Obama earned him the enmity of many liberals, including an advertising campaign attacking him in his home state. And his break on the gun bill came after he had opposed the Democratic leadership’s budget plan, which contained targets for tax increases that he had fought against as chairman of the tax-writing committee.

Just this week, over Mr. Baucus’s fierce opposition, Democratic leaders forced Internet sales tax legislation to the Senate floor — without his committee’s imprimatur. Montana is one of four states without a sales tax, and Mr. Baucus has tried to rally resistance to the Internet bill, which is championed by Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat.

“Max was considering this weeks ago, long before this matter was brought to the floor,” Mr. Durbin said, dismissing aides close to Mr. Baucus who suggested that the Internet power play was the final straw for him.

As Mr. Baucus made a push to rewrite the nation’s tax laws, he also came under scrutiny for the expansive network of former aides who were now sought-after lobbyists on tax legislation.

In Montana, the former Democratic governor Brian Schweitzer — still a popular and formidable politician — was making unsubtle suggestions that he might want Mr. Baucus’s seat. Expectations among senior Democrats that Mr. Schweitzer was waiting in the wings relieved some of the pressure to keep Mr. Baucus in the re-election hunt.

With his decision, Mr. Baucus joined Senators Carl Levin of Michigan, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey in heading for the exits. Even if Mr. Schweitzer runs for the Senate, the Democratic Party will be playing defense on a large and expanding playing field, hoping to stave off Republicans seeking control of the Senate for a third straight election.

If Democrats can maintain control of the chamber, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon would be next in line for the chairmanship of the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction not only over taxes but health care and entitlements like Medicare. If anything, Mr. Wyden has been more of an iconoclast on the committee’s issues than Mr. Baucus, teaming with Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, on a drastic overhaul of Medicare that still rankles many Democrats.

Having Mr. Wyden lead the Finance Committee would not sit well with Democratic organizations that have rallied against any significant changes to Social Security and Medicare. Just behind Mr. Wyden in seniority on the committee is Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who would dearly like the chairmanship but could also be in line to be majority leader.

“My bottom line is, the country is expecting the Finance Committee over the next two years to focus on the country’s priorities,” Mr. Wyden said, “and that’s improving the fiscal picture, fixing this broken, dysfunctional mess of a tax code and dealing with what is a demographic tsunami with huge implications for Medicare.”

“I’m just going to leave it at that,” he said.