Policy Documents

Evan Bayh Stuns Washington: What Does it Mean for Health Care?

Benjamin Domenech –
January 1, 2014

The stunning decision of Indiana Senator Evan Bayh to announce his retirement, in the midst of debates on health care and the federal budget where he represents a critical vote and mere days before the filing deadline on his seat, has left his fellow Democrats and the White House in the lurch. According to Bayh, he's stepping down because of the partisan extremes of Washington:

"There's just too much brain-dead partisanship, tactical maneuvering for short-term political advantage rather than focusing on the greater good, and also just strident ideology... The extremes of both parties have to be willing to accept compromises from time to time to make some progress because some progress for the American people is better than nothing, and all too often recently, we've been getting nothing."

There are several key aspects of this resignation which hold ramifications for the health care debate in Washington. This obviously has an impact on the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid may now be short two votes, as Bayh has repeatedly voiced his displeasure with the current health legislation (and was one of the most prominent voices of opposition to the use of the reconciliation process to achieve passage), but perhaps counterintuitively, the larger impact could be felt in the House of Representatives. The American Spectator's Phil Klein explains:

One of the many implications Sen. Evan Bayh's retirement could have is to make it even more difficult for Democrats to pass comprehensive health care legislation. In the broader sense, news of a strong moderate Democrat feeling the need to step aside could make other red state Democrats even more nervous than they already are about reelection and thus uneasy about casting a tough vote. But more specifically, the most obvious Democrats to seek Bayh's seat are Indiana's Democratic congressmen: Reps. Brad Ellsworth, Baron Hill and Joe Donnelly. All of them have already voted for the original version of the House health care bill, and it's unlikely that any of them would want to cast another vote for the bill during a difficult race for the Senate.

As this plays out over the coming days, expect more recriminations from centrists in both parties over how a politician who is young, popular, and viewed as a leader in moderate governance could become so disgusted with a process that he opts for early retirement.