Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., spent much of Saturday working with the Magic City Optimists Club selling and handling Christmas trees at their lot at Sears, 1600 Grand Ave.
While most of the morning went to learning the ins and outs of Douglas firs and Scotch pines, the thorny nature of ongoing debates and issues in Washington, D.C., likely prepared him for the trees' prickly needles.
During a break, Baucus took a few minutes to answer questions about some of those issues.
Much of the conversation focused on the national debt, negotiations on federal tax cut packages and the ongoing debate over the health care reform bill he was integral in crafting.
“It's imperative that we, as a country, get our national debt reduced,” he said. “If we don't, it'll start raising questions about American stature in the world.”
Baucus recently voted against a $4 trillion debt reduction plan proposed by the Obama commission. On Saturday, he said he believes debt reduction is of the utmost importance, but that the commission's report did not focus enough on growth and jobs.
He said another way to help reduce the debt could be to find a way to collect on about $400 billion a year in unpaid, legally-owed taxes.
“Otherwise, you and I are subsidizing those people (who don't pay),” he said.
On the subject of recent tax cut negotiations between the Obama administration and Republican officials, he said he would like to see more renewable energy incentives, such as for viable wind farms.
He pointed to the Section 1603 grant program, which provides government cash grants to renewable energy projects, as an example.
When asked about a possible Republican attempt to repeal the health care bill passed earlier this year, Baucus, who crafted the legislation, said that no matter what, it's important to reduce health care costs.
“Health care is just too expensive for families, for businesses and for governments,” he said. “We pay 50 to 60 percent more per capita than the next country but we're not 50 to 60 percent healthier.”
The average Montana family pays an extra $2,100 each year in health insurance premiums to help pay for uncovered people's medical care, he said, and proper health care legislation could help reduce that amount.
“That's important,” Baucus said. “We'll cross those bridges if we get there.”
Baucus worked at the tree lot as part of a working day, times when he works with Montanans during their jobs in an effort to better understand their concerns.
However, most of his day was not spent answering questions and instead went toward sawing trees, making wreaths and helping shoppers find and load up the right Christmas tree. Money raised goes toward the Optimist Clubs' support of local youth organizations.