Baucus's Retirement Could Help Democrats

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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Max Baucus of Montana may be giving some good news to Senate Democratic leaders and the White House.

According to reports, the Senate Finance Committee chairman has decided not to seek a seventh term in 2014. Baucus hasn't always been a reliable vote for Democratic leaders as he sought re-election in his Republican-leaning state. Most recently, Baucus was one of four Democrats to vote against background checks for gun purchases, helping Republicans kill the measure.

The senator also frequently frustrated his fellow Democrats on tax and health-care issues, beginning with the prescription-drug benefit for the elderly that was enacted under President George W. Bush.

Under normal circumstances, the retirement of a senior Democrat in a red state lessens the chances of that party retaining the seat. But the popular former Democratic governor, Brian Schweitzer, would probably be a stronger candidate for the Senate seat than Baucus.

Moreover, without the worries about re-election, Baucus might be more supportive of Democratic leaders on fiscal issues, immigration and gun-control legislation.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Albert R Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net