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. Liberals may argue that any of them would get slammed for voting for the bill regardless. That’s true, but all of these Democrats also voted for the Stupak amendment on abortion, so they’d have some wiggle room to argue that they voted for a bill that prohibited federal funding for abortion, but didn’t vote for a bill once that restrictive language was dropped. Ellsworth was actually a co-sponsor of Stupak, and said at the time that he could not vote for the bill if that language wasn’t in it. This won’t shield them from attacks, but you can definitely see them deciding that the “flip flopper” charge would be better than casting a second vote for a highly unpopular bill.
Keep in mind that the House health care bill passed by a slim 220 to 215 margin the first time around, with 39 Democrats voting against it. Since then, the one Republican who voted for it — Joseph Cao — has indicated that he would not support the bill a second time around given the weaker language on abortion. Florida Rep. Robert Wexler already retired prematurely. Factor in Jack Murtha’s death, and Pelosi is down to 217 votes. If Hill, Ellsworth or Donnelly defect while running for Senate, she’s down to 216 and the route to passage is even further in doubt.