Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus to Retire in 2014; Tavenner Approved as CMS Administrator

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., a senior Democrat on the panel since 2001, will not seek re-election in 2014, he announced on April 23. The same day, the Finance Committee approved Marilyn Tavenner to become the next administrator of CMS. Tavenner has been acting CMS administrator since 2011. The agency has not had a permanent administrator since September 2006. The full Senate must now vote to approve Tavenner’s appointment.

Baucus’ Role

The Senate Finance Committee is responsible for most of the health care legislation that moves through the Senate. Baucus was responsible for writing much of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148) and ensuring that there were 60 votes to pass the Senate. If the Democrats maintain control of the Senate after the 2014 midterm elections, the chairmanship would shift to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Ranking member Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, would take the reins if Republicans control the Senate.

In a statement, Baucus said that in the remainder of his term, “I will continue to work on simplifying and improving the tax code, tackling the nation’s debt, pushing important job-creating trade agreements through the Senate, and implementing and expanding affordable health care for more Americans.”

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, who served as chairman and ranking member alongside the Montana lawmaker, said he and Baucus have been very close professionally during their years in the Senate. “We ran the Finance Committee for 10 years together, and every bill except for three or four was bipartisan,” said Grassley. “The Senate will be worse off as a deliberative body when Senator Baucus leaves.” Grassley extolled Baucus as a lawmaker who sought to produce legislation through “comity and consensus.”

Tavenner’s Priorities

In her testimony before the Finance committee on April 9, Tavenner said that her three primary focuses were (1) to run CMS like a business and act like a business partner with beneficiaries, providers, hospitals, members of Congress, states, advocacy groups, insurance companies and employees; (2) to implement legislation to ensure that all Americans have affordable healthcare care coverage; and (3) to use the tools Congress has granted the agency to reduce overall costs of care and improve the delivery of health care, such as new payment strategies connected to performance, innovative new models of care, and enhanced tools to combat fraud.