Friday, November 13, 2009

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

The curious case of Brian Baird

Much like the residents of the 3rd Legislative District he represents, Brian Baird likes to go his own way.

In 2006, as Iraq seemed poised on the precipice of sectarian apocalypse, the Vancouver Democrat stood behind then-President George W. Bush’s troop surge, almost completely alone among the anti-war rank-and-file of his own party.

More recently, in the thick of this year’s healthcare debate, Baird penned an editorial last month advocating the replacement of popular government-run healthcare programs such as Medicare with a pre-paid system combined with catastrophic insurance. Interesting? Perhaps. But it was miles away from any reform proposal, Republican or Democratic, then being debated on Capitol Hill.

Then came last weekend’s big healthcare vote in the U.S. House, with a sweeping $1.2 trillion reform bill barely squeaking past 220-215. Joining Baird in their “No” votes were 176 of 177 House Republicans and a group of Democrats mostly from districts either won by last year’s presidential GOP nominee John McCain or narrowly won by President Barack Obama.

Baird was one of only four Dems representing districts Obama carried last year by five percentage points or more to vote against the healthcare reform bill – a list including single-payer healthcare proponent Dennis Kucinich and Artur Davis, an Alabama Democrat preparing a gubernatorial campaign in one of the most conservative states in the Union.

As for Baird? In a statement released on the eve of the vote, Baird praised his party’s healthcare bill, calling attention to a number of improvements and elements “that could at long last correct the Medicare payment disparities that disadvantage our state,” before going on to write that he was voting against the bill anyway.

One of the reasons behind his “No” vote, according to Baird, was that there was not enough time to consider Republican amendments to the legislation – a concern apparently held without regard to the GOP-led chants of “Kill the Bill” outside the Capitol last week.

As written here and here, the spiraling cost of employee healthcare coverage is the number one issue for small businesses – one that threatens the survival of those lucky or nimble enough to get this far through the deepest and most prolonged recession in 60 years.

These are concerns that Baird, as evidenced by VBJ’s Q&A with the Congressman last September, shares with his business constituency – making his vote against the healthcare bill all the more puzzling.

Make no mistake: the Congressman’s willingness to strike out on his own path, regardless of party or political expediency, may be one of his best qualities.

Even some of the mightiest doves in the Iraq debate of 2006-7 now agree with Baird that the surge was the right course, paving the way to relative stability in a nation still plagued with continuing violence and political turmoil.

However, when it comes to Baird’s choice of sides in this latest national debate, the passage of time may prove to be far less forgiving.


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad he is a republican in disguise. Gives me hope for our district. I hope the liberals on the left run him out and he runs on our ticket.