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Michael Kieschnick

Michael Kieschnick

Posted: February 15, 2010 12:57 PM

Did Filibuster Reform Lead Sen. Bayh to Quit?

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Evan Bayh always liked attention -- he was always announcing coalitions of concern about excessively progressive legislation or tendencies in the Senate. And today, he is getting lots of attention for his odd announcement that he is not running for reelection as a senator from Indiana.

Full disclosure -- I don't know Sen. Bayh, although I met him once as he was raising money for the 2008 presidential campaign he ultimately did not pursue. He seemed to be a pleasant fellow, emphasizing his commitment to the environment and reproductive choice on a visit to California -- not the annoying loyal friend to medical device manufacturers and insurers that he seems to have become.

So what follows is pure speculation as to why he would announce today that he is not running for reelection even though he is leading in the polls, has $13 million in the bank, and every Democratic vote is essential in the Senate. This kind of last minute personal choice leaves literally just a couple of days for shell shocked officials to find a replacement.

1. It might be because momentum is building to reform or do away with the filibuster. Senators like Bayh have value only when the filibuster rule makes their vote somewhere between vote 51 and 60. After Sen. Durbin, number two in the Senate, came out for reform, Bayh's stock plummeted. No filibuster means much less attention for senators like Bayh (and Nelson and Lieberman, et al).

2. Perhaps it had something to do with the growing national outrage aimed at health insurance giant Wellpoint over the company's double-digit rate hikes for the self-insured. Premiums are up by 39% in California; Bayh's wife occupies a very lucrative position on the board of Wellpoint.

3. Could he be considering running for president in 2012 from the right of President Obama? By then, an obstructionist Senate might have played a key role in the failure of the first Obama term.

4. Some think he would rather be Indiana's governor once more. There, he has more influence than he does as a single centrist senator. The governorship opens up in 2012, as well.

5.
He is putting himself up for auction to special interest groups - such as the drug lobby Pharma - which just ejected its colorful president Billy Tauzin (former chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee) for getting too cozy with the White House. The auction has far more value if it implicitly includes his vote in the remaining months of the current session.

Sen. Bayh blamed the lack of bipartisanship for his decision, specifically mentioning the collapse of the Baucus/Grassley tax cut legislation that was masquerading as a jobs program. This is the only reason that is likely to be entirely bogus.

While popular in Indiana, Sen. Bayh accomplished relatively little positive during his two terms in Washington. He will be missed only by the media, which loves the narrative of a senator who publicly obstructs the goals his own political party.