President Obama has nominated Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., as the next ambassador to China, potentially setting back efforts at comprehensive tax reform.

Baucus has been working with his counterpart in the House, Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., in recent years on drafting a series of proposals for reforming various aspects of the Tax Code. Most recently, Baucus released a set of proposals Monday for energy tax reform, including tax incentives for clean electricity and transportation fuel. However, the prospects for Democrats and Republicans in Congress to agree on comprehensive tax reform legislation remain as uncertain as ever, despite the recent bipartisan cooperation in passing a budget deal.

“I am humbled by the nomination and deeply honored to have the opportunity to represent the United States in China,” Baucus said in a statement. “The U.S.—China relationship is one of the world’s most important bilateral relationships. If confirmed, my goal will be to further strengthen diplomatic and economic ties between our two nations. My career has been dedicated to public service.  It is something I care about deeply. It’s an honor to be presented with an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my mentor, Mike Mansfield, who worked to strengthen and improve America’s important relationships throughout Asia.  I welcome this opportunity to continue to serve Montana and my country.”

Besides tax reform, Baucus’s committee also focuses on trade policy, so he has experience with international relations. He has served in the Senate since 1978 and chaired the Finance Committee since 2007, when Democrats took control of the Senate, but has already announced that he would not campaign for re-election in 2014. He was preceded as chairman by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who remains a member of the committee.

Baucus is expected to be succeeded as Finance Committee chairman by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., according to Bloomberg, as the most senior Democrat after Baucus on the committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., is planning to retire at the end of 2014.

Camp offered praise for Baucus, having worked with him closely on tax reform in a series of weekly meetings and a tour across the country in which they elicited input from taxpayers. “I have tremendous respect for Max and wish him the very best,” Camp said in a statement. “Dealing with China will not be an easy task, but I have learned to never underestimate Max. From a legislative standpoint, Congress is losing a true giant. He has racked up more legislative victories than most can ever hope for—he is an instant Hall-of-Famer. Max was a tough, but honest negotiator and believed deeply in making progress on behalf of the country—especially those living in Montana. It is a great relief that Max is expected to be replaced by Ron Wyden, someone I’ve known for a long time and trust. There is much work to be done this Congress, and I thank Max for all he has done to date to advance the debate on tax, trade and health care policy.”

The ranking Republican member of the Finance Committee, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also offered praise for Baucus. “Max is a dear friend and proven leader who’s always been willing to work across the aisle, fight for Montana and stand up for what he believes is right,” said Hatch. “His depth and breadth of knowledge will provide him with a strong foundation that will serve him well as the next U.S. envoy to China.  This is a tremendous opportunity for Max, who I know will work tirelessly to strengthen U.S.-China relations, which is incredibly important in today’s competitive global economy. I wish Max all the best as he takes on this next chapter of his life. I know I speak for many in saying that Max Baucus’ departure will leave a lasting impact on the Senate.  He will be sorely missed.”

House Ways and Means Committee ranking Democratic member Sander Levin, D-Mich., also hailed Baucus’s nomination. “I congratulate President Obama on an excellent decision to nominate Sen. Baucus to be the next U.S. ambassador to China,” he said in a statement. “Our relationship with China is among the most important in the world and, in deciding to nominate Sen. Baucus, the President has chosen a leader with a broad and intense background on key issues that affect that relationship. Sen. Baucus has served our nation with distinction for four decades and there is no doubt that he will continue to do so in his new role as ambassador to China.”


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