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Exodus of Baucus Staff

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus is losing his top tax staffers by the day.

An exodus is occurring among committee staff and in Baucus’ personal office, leading tax lobbyists and congressional staffers to wonder about the effect this will have on any potential overhaul of the tax code in 2013, as well as Baucus’ own legislative agenda.

The latest and most high profile exit is Russ Sullivan, Baucus’ long-time right hand man and the Democratic staff director of the Senate Finance Committee. The committee announced Sullivan was leaving on Thursday after 18 years in the Senate to enter the private sector.

His departure comes on the heels of the resignation of Baucus’ chief-of-staff in his personal office, Jon Selib. Selib, too, is decamping to the private sector to Hakluyt, a British strategic intelligence and advisory firm in New York. He previously worked on legislation surrounding tax extenders and the economic stimulus package and worked as the tax counsel for the committee for three years.

Corporate tax expert David Hughes is also on his way out to join the IRS. He joined the staff in 2011 and was seen as a tremendous asset by other tax staffers for his deep knowledge of the corporate tax system and for his previous stint on the committee. He also worked as the vice president of tax at two Fortune 500 companies, according to the committee website.

The departure of these three high-level staffers from the Senate’s top tax-writing committee comes as Congress is mired in fights over the future of tax policy, with no immediate compromise in sight or commitment to do tax reform. Baucus also must run for re-election in 2014 and is expected to face a tough race, as his fellow Democratic Montana Sen. Jon Tester recently did.

The committee's spokesman said these departures would have no bearing on committee business next year. “Senator Baucus has every intention of taking tax reform up in the next Congress and working to create jobs and boost the economy," said Sean Neary, communications director. "He has been laying the groundwork for tax reform for well over a year, meeting regularly with Finance Committee members as well as Ways and Means Chairman, Dave Camp.   He is prepared and confident that the Committee can get something done. And he is confident it will get done with his new staff director Amber Cottle at the helm."

Additionally, Neary said that staff churn is part of the order of the day on the Hill. "It’s a natural transition. The Committee will be fine. It has a deep bench," he said.

Still, such high-level churn also means a significant loss of expertise for the Senate Finance Committee, both in terms of the policy and politics of the best way to move legislation forward. That’s a blow for Baucus, who's intent on doing tax reform next year.

 

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