Baucus: The Notable Quotable

Posted April 10, 2009 at 5:46pm

While most Senators like to hear themselves speak, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) likes to listen to the words of others.

The Finance chairman incorporates quotes from great historic figures at nearly every turn, using their words to open committee hearings or as part of his floor statements. He’s quoted American authors, British philosophers, a military general and even a former GOP Congressman.

“The banks use rather surreal accounting practices,— Baucus said, cribbing from former Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) as he opened a hearing on the Troubled Asset Relief Program on March 31.

Not every quote is so straightforward, but at the beginning of almost every Finance hearing, Baucus offers a few borrowed words.

“Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said: Confidence thrives on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, and on unselfish performance. Without them it cannot live,’— Baucus said on Jan. 21 at the confirmation hearing of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

“The 19th-century British philosopher Herbert Spencer wrote: The preservation of health is a duty,’— Baucus observed on Feb. 3 during a speech before the AcademyHealth Conference.

“Sophocles wrote: Things gained through unjust fraud are never secure,’— the Montana Democrat warned at a March 17 hearing on Ponzi schemes.

Baucus’ lines range from short and direct to long and prophetic. His favorite ex-president seems to be FDR; and once, Baucus referred to two presidents in a single quote.

“President Obama said, Nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough,— Baucus said at a health care reform hearing on March 10 before concluding with his own words. “Let there be no doubt: Health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.—

As chairman of the Finance Committee, Baucus has an ideal perch from which to flaunt his linguistic style. Indeed, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) was an erudite Finance chairman and a quotable source in his own right.

Peppering a speech with a historical fact or a famously recited line is commonplace in the Senate, Associate Historian Don Ritchie said. “It’s a tried and true tactic of debaters,— he said. “In some cases, it’s just a passion.—

The body’s earliest Members were trained debaters and stewards of Greek and Roman history. Sens. Henry Clay (Ky.), Daniel Webster (Mass.) and John C. Calhoun (S.C.), known as the “great triumvirate— who served around the 1830s and 1840s, recited such rich speeches that they were quoted by a generation of Senators who followed them. British playwright William Shakespeare was an oft-quoted figure in the 1930s, and this year, Members have borrowed in droves from President Abraham Lincoln, whose 200th birthday is being celebrated this year.

“A good speaker wants his audience to recognize his reference points, so you don’t want to be too obscure,— Ritchie added, noting that former presidents are often a popular pick.

“Commerce is the life blood of a free society,— Baucus said on March 9, using FDR’s words to open up a confirmation hearing for U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. “We must see to it that the arteries which carry that blood stream are not clogged again.—

While Baucus often favors notable American figures, he has mixed it up with a nod to the likes of Spencer and Greek philosopher Aristotle (“The best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class.—).

And in an unexpected move, Baucus, a Protestant, went with a Jewish saying before a March hearing on the health care work force.

“An old Jewish proverb warns: Don’t live in a town where there are no doctors,’— he said.

Baucus “believes that the lessons learned from history, or from great works of literature, can often be applied to the challenges we face today,— spokeswoman Erin Shields said. “He chooses quotes based on their relevance to the task at hand, to help illustrate a pending issue, and to frame the discussion moving forward.—

And indeed, that sentiment seems to be the favored way for Baucus — at least judging by the words he borrowed on Feb. 25 from Gen. George C. Marshall.

“When a thing is done, it’s done. Look forward to your next objective.—