Sen. Max Baucus, the veteran Finance Committee chairman who's had a hand in major tax and health care legislation for decades, will not seek re-election next year.
"After??much consideration and many conversations with my wife Mel and our family, I have decided not to seek reelection in 2014. I will serve out my term, and then it will be time to go home to Montana," the Montana Democrat announced Tuesday.
First elected in 1978, Baucus heads the powerful Senate committee charged with writing tax and health care legislation. He was instrumental in crafting the 2010 law overhauling the federal health care system, and was embarking on a new effort to revamp the tax code.
But Baucus, 71, faced re-election trouble in his increasingly conservative state. Last week, he joined four other Democrats in voting against a gun control measure, toughening background checks, pushed hard by President Barack Obama.
Baucus had been painted as too friendly to Washington lobbyists, and some liberals Tuesday hailed a retirement.
"Goodbye, Senator K Street. Max Baucus has a history of voting with corporate interests and not the interests of Montana voters -- taking millions from Wall Street, insurance companies, and lobbyists. Montana will finally have a chance to have a senator with its best interests at heart, and we hope Brian Schweitzer jumps into the race immediately," said Stephanie Taylor, Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder.
Reactions from the two parties varied along predictable lines. Republicans were pleased that Baucus, who has the ability to raise millions, is stepping down -- though former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, could seek the seat.
Nonetheless, Rob Collins, National Republican Senatorial Committee director, chided Baucus over the health care law.
"Its?architect Max Baucus waved the white flag rather than face voters," Collins said.
"The 2014 electoral map is in free?fall for Democrats, who were already facing a daunting challenge," he said. Republicans are defending 21 seats to the Democrats' 35. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win control of the Senate.
Sen.?Michael Bennet, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman, disagreed. Bennet said Baucus would be "sorely missed," and noted that Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., won a tough race last year.
"Democrats built an unprecedented ground game in Montana in 2012 when Senator Tester was reelected, and we will continue to invest all the resources necessary to hold this seat," Bennet?said.Baucus said he would "continue to work on simplifying and improving the tax code, tackling the nation?s debt, pushing important job-creating trade agreements through the Senate, and implementing and expanding affordable health care for more Americans.
"Deciding not to run for re-election was an extremely difficult decision," he said. "After thinking long and hard, I decided I want to focus the next year and a half on serving Montana unconstrained by the demands of a campaign. Then, I want to come home and spend time with Mel, my son Zeno, and our family enjoying the Montana public lands we?ve fought hard to keep open and untarnished.