Friday, July 24, 2009

Reporter's Notebook

- Paul Leonard can be contacted at

Closing a window, then a door, on health care reform?

It’s not often a reporter gets a front-row seat to two vastly different perspectives on the health care debate – all in the course of one busy afternoon. But that’s what happened this week, with Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire coming to town for a Thursday luncheon held by 10 different local business associations, along with Rep. Brian Baird (D-Vancouver) calling VBJ from our nation’s capital.

Gregoire’s stop in Vancouver mostly focused on touting her administration’s efforts to boost the state’s economy for an audience of business groups from Battle Ground to East Vancouver. But there was no escaping the escalating debate on health care reform, which seemed to stall this week due to concerns about costs and worries about the “public option” provision in the proposed bill. “If it doesn’t happen by December 31, then a window will close,” Gregoire said. “And I think that’s a tragedy, because we just can’t afford it.”

Not so fast, Baird said, in a conversation with VBJ later that afternoon. “Before we pass this thing, everyone needs to do two things,” he said. “And that’s both reading and understanding the bill we’re voting for.”

So if you’re confused by President Barack Obama’s health care legislation – you’re in pretty good company, according to Baird. It turns out even this six-term Congressman and former professor of public policy at Pacific Lutheran University doesn’t understand all of the provisions in the different versions of the bill currently working their way through Congress. That’s why Baird called a meeting of the Democratic caucus for Monday so that policy experts can explain the bill to the men and women expected to vote on it. “If I wrote the bill, it would be much simpler, that’s for sure,” Baird said.

As for the timeline of health care reform, does Baird agree with our governor that a bill must be passed before the political free-for-all of next year’s midterm Congressional elections? “With all due respect to the governor, I’m a bit skeptical that Congress is always dysfunctional in an election year,” he said. “We will get this done.”