Brian Baird Seen as Crucial Swing Vote for Health Care Reform

Is Baird, who is resigning from Congress, now freed up to vote yes or no on the plan?
Does health care reform rest largely on Brian Baird's shoulders? It's looking that way, according to analysts quoted yesterday in The New York Times.

As the president and Congressional Democrats try to force through reform without support from Republicans, they need wayward Democrats who voted against the health care bill in November to change their minds. The most likely suspects, the thinking goes: representatives who are stepping down from Congress and thus can risk the backlash--in the age of Tea Party politics-- that might come from supporting Obama's plan.

Baird, representing the 3rd Congressional District in southwestern Washington, is one of only three such Democrats. But does this analysis make any sense?

Baird undoubtedly already knew that he wasn't going to run again when he voted no against the health care bill in November; he announced that he was resigning from Congress the following month.

That may be why he felt freed up to vote as he did. In his district, which went for Obama in 2008, the political risk might well be withholding support for the president's plan--not the reverse. He certainly sounded defensive as he issued a lengthy statement explaining his vote. (The bottom line: he was concerned about the cost and the chance that premiums for the already insured would go up.)

Note that the last major time that Baird veered from Democratic orthodoxy, by supporting President Bush's 2007 "surge" in Iraq, he got thoroughly beat up by liberal constituents.

It's true, however, that the 3rd is a swing district, trending more conservative as it heads south from Olympia. And whatever Republicans it contains are likely to show up for this November's election, says David Wasserman, an analyst for the Cook Political Report, a non-partisan newsletter in Washington D.C., and a source for the New York Times story.

"Anger is a stronger motivation than love in politics," Wasserman says, noting the anti-Democratic fervor in some quarters, in part because of fears about health care reform. Were he running again and inclined to support the reform effort, Wasserman continues, Baird would be "in as tough a position as anyone.'

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