Matt Yglesias today is back to complaining about how Democrats in the Senate choose committee chairs; Neil Sinhababu says that "it explains a heck of a lot."
Nonsense. Senate committee chairs aren't that important; Senate committees aren't that important. Max Baucus isn't some outlier randomly empowered by a lottery system of committee chairs. The fact is that there are an awful lot of Democrats in the Senate who are close to Baucus -- moderate mainstream Democrats with potential electoral problems if they are perceived as too liberal. Look again at this chart (from Simon Jackman). If, say, Chuck Schumer or John Kerry was installed as chair of Senate Finance, they would not have been able to simply dictate a liberal bill; they would be negotiating with Nelson and Conrad and Lincoln and Baucus, because the committee needs those Senators for a majority. Or, if the committee was packed with liberals, then they certainly could report out a liberal bill...but only to then have to negotiation with Nelson and Conrad and Lincoln and Baucus, and Bayh, McCaskill, Webb, Dorgan, Pryor, and Tester, and a few others, because without them the Democrats don't even have 51 votes, let alone 60.
Of course, the public form of bargaining Baucus has chosen is the sham "negotiations" with Grassley and Enzi. Don't be fooled -- the real bargaining here is within the Democratic caucus and the two Senators from Maine. The only thing that committee structure suggests -- it doesn't dictate, but it suggests -- is who gets first crack at leading the negotiations.
Remember, this is the Senate, not the House. Bills don't have to go through committee; any Senator can offer a substitute on the floor of the Senate, and if it has the votes, it will be the new bill. If Chris Dodd, or if Jack Reed, or if Barbara Mikulski, thinks he or she has a formula that will attract 60 votes, he or she could be arranging it right now. That those things haven't happened means that the problem to be overcome here isn't committees, but the ideological makeup and political context of the Senate.