Sen. Max Baucus brushed off recent criticism over billions of dollars in corporate tax breaks contained in the so-called “fiscal cliff” deal passed by Congress last week.

Speaking to members of the press following his address to the 2013 Montana Legislature, Baucus said the package of tax cuts — which was approved last August by the bipartisan Senate Finance Committee included in the fiscal cliff deal – also eliminated “tens of billions of dollars” of tax credit “extenders,” which are legislative extensions of soon-to-expire laws.

“Frankly I was pretty proud of myself,” Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said Thursday. “Congress was basically totally dysfunctional on this general subject, so I got the committee together and I said ‘OK, everybody here, Republicans and Democrats, lets work together…we have to get rid of some of these. It’s deadwood. It’s wasteful.’”

(Full video at the bottom of this post).

The package of extenders inserted by the White House into the fiscal cliff bill contained 52 tax break extensions for corporations totaling $64 billion. Some of the tax breaks went to specific companies such GE, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, JPMorgan Chase, and NASCAR. Another tax break benefits rum producers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Now to be honest there were a couple in there I was not happy with,” Baucus said. “One that’s come out in the press quite frankly I’m not very happy with and I don’t know how it got in there. And I made that view known to my office.”

Baucus said the committee passed the measure on a bi-partisan 19-5 vote.  Baucus said the  measure eliminated 20 tax breaks that were scheduled for extensions for a savings of about $30 billion to taxpayers. A spokeswoman for Baucus said the overall measure contained many provisions which saved Montanans money.

“Max’s number one focus was making sure taxes didn’t go up for Montana families and small businesses because of tax cuts that were set to expire, and he worked with both Republicans and Democrats to put together a bill that could get enough support from both parties to make sure that didn’t happen,” Baucus spokeswoman Jennifer Donohue said in a statement Thursday.

Baucus has come under fire in some quarters after Washington Examiner columnist Timothy Carney pointed out that many of the corporations that benefited from the tax breaks employ lobbyists with close ties to Baucus to lobby.

“Pick any one of the special-interest tax breaks extended by the cliff deal, and you’re likely to find a former Baucus aide who lobbied for it on behalf of a large corporation or industry organization,” Carney wrote in his Sunday column.

Carney pointed out that former Baucus chief of staff Peter Prowitt is the in-house lobbyists and an executive for GE and was on the lobbying team that won some of the tax credits.

“Two weeks before the Finance Committee hearing during which the bill was hashed out, GE’s political action committee topped off its contributions to Baucus’ Glacier PAC with a $2,000 check, according to the PAC’s federal filings. This brought GE’s contributions to Baucus’ PAC to the legal maximum of $10,000 for the election cycle.”

Baucus’ former political advisor, Shannon Finley, lobbied on behalf of the American Wind Energy Association, “which lead the effort to extend a wind tax credit,” Carney wrote. Finley also represented Beam Inc., on the rum tax break.

According to Carney, former Baucus tax policy advisor Patrick Heck lobbied on behalf of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which received a railroad maintenance tax credit, and Michael Evans, Baucus’ former legislative director, lobbied for clients who benefitted from a biofuels tax credit.

Asked Thursday about the connection between his former staffers and recipients of the extended tax breaks, Baucus said: “the main thing is to just keep our eye on the ball.”

“This is legislation which permanently prevented income tax increases on virtually all Montanans,” Baucus said. “This is legislation that permanently raised exemptions for the estate tax so that Montana farmers ranchers and family-owned companies like auto dealerships can be guaranteed there will be no increase in federal estate taxes that jeopardize their operations.”

Baucus said he goal is to get rid of as many extenders as possible in the coming year.

“I’m hopeful that during tax reform this next year we’ll be able to get rid of even more,” Baucus said.

Some of the extenders Baucus supported include:

· Deductions for college tuition and fees. According to Baucus’ office, about 2 million Americans and nearly 6,000 Montanans used that deduction in 2010 (the most recent IRS data).

· Deductions for teachers who buy classroom supplies out of their own pockets. According to Baucus’ office, 3.7 million teachers nationwide and nearly 11,000 Montana teachers relied on the deduction in 2010 (the most recent IRS data).

· Tax credits for businesses that hire new workers. And specific tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed veterans and tax credits for employers who make up the salary difference for Guard and Reserve members who are called to deploy.

· Expensing provisions that allow small businesses to write off the full costs capital investments in the first year instead of breaking over a longer period of time – up to 39.5 years.

· The research and development tax credit, which Baucus’ office said “allows businesses to invest in innovation and stay competitive.”

· A production tax credit that supports wind farm projects including the Rim Rock Wind farm in Glacier and Toole Counties and the Shawmut Wind Farm. “Nearly 1,500 Montana jobs have been supported by the Production Tax Credit,” according to Baucus’ office.

· Charitable deduction for farmers and ranchers who allow easements on their land for conservation purposes.

Here’s the full video from Baucus’ interview with Montana press at the Capitol:

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John S. AdamsEditor-in-Chief

John Adams began his professional career in 2001 in Idaho Falls, ID writing and editing for a variety of trade magazines. He covered topics ranging from potato and sugar beet farming to skate park and playground construction and maintenance. Adams started his newspaper career as the city government reporter for the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, WI where he covered the City Hall, police, fire and local courthouse beats. In 2005 he joined the staff of the Missoula Independent in Missoula, MT where he worked as a staff reporter covering a wide range of issues including the environment,...