Unlike many of my fellow 3rd Congressional District voters I had an opportunity to speak with Congressman Baird during this August recess.
I am a member of the Longview, WA Pioneer Lions (www.pioneerlions.org), we meet weekly for lunch and each week we have a guest speaker. This week it was Congressman Brian Baird. This was a scheduled meeting and the Congressman has visited our club often over the years.
Baird was given about 20 minutes to give the Lions an update on congressional business. He of course discussed his recent comments on the Town Hall “protesters”, his decision not to hold Town Halls of his own and his observations regarding the “lies” about the health care plan.
He also talked about his work on environmental issues (specifically the oceans) and the tax payer funded trips he took educating himself on the subject.
Briefly he covered the topic of the TARP and Stimulus monies.
Assuming that others would raise questions regarding health care and that I would try to speak to him privately about his and Pelosi’s comments, I quickly began formulating a stimulus question as Baird began his presentation. (Confession: had I read the Pioneer Lions newsletter I would have known well in advance that Baird would be our guest speaker today)
For the highlights of his comments read the piece written by Tony Lystra of The Daily News, it includes some additional comments made during an interview after the meeting:
Baird did little to distance himself from his earlier comments about Town Hall “protesters” such as their use of “Brown Shirt tactics”, being “un-American” , “hearing comments like that of Timothy McVeigh before the bombing” and domestic terrorists. Instead he “clarified” by stating that “he never would characterize opponents of health care as “Nazis or something like that.” But that those who would disrupt the Town Halls and shout down others are un-American.
He went on to complain that “web-sites” are encouraging and giving direction to people on how to disrupt and shout down others at Town Halls. These web-sites “say such things as, ‘Don’t let there be any intelligent discussions. … Try to intimidate as early as you can,’ Baird said.
He told the audience that his staff had received death threats and that at some Town Halls effigies of Congressmen were being hung.
He then went right into his defense of the Health Care plan, after prefacing his comments with “I am not sure how I’ll vote on a final health care bill after the August recess”.
He tried to assure the audience that there would be no “death panels” just (paid for) end of life discussions between a doctor and patient. That the Health Care bill would be revenue neutral and that nobody making less than $250,000 would be taxed to pay for the program. He disavowed any plan that would implement a “single-payer” system or any system like Canada (with waiting periods) and stated that citizens would have the same “menu” options as congress when choosing health care.
He said that nobody would be “forced into the government option”, that everyone would have a choice and that the competition would be good for lowering the cost of health care.
He said the rationing argument is a straw man and that the only rationing that would happen would be the same as what goes on in private insurance.
He said that the most important thing that the bill does is prevent any insurance company from denying coverage to any American for any reason.
He made no mention that I heard of how he would pay for the health care plan, other than that businesses that make over $250,000 (gross) that did not provide health care for employees would be required to pay into the “health care exchange” program. He did however mention that “small” businesses that did provide health coverage to employees would receive a tax credit to help cover the cost.
I was fairly underwhelmed with the DNC talking points and I had hoped that he would open up with some details such as the $500 billion in cuts to Medicare, the astronomical CBO (Congressional Budget Office) cost projections, the funding plan and the proposed bureaucratic nightmare of the plan.
During the question and answer period Baird fielded a couple of question from the audience regarding the health care plan, mostly referring back to his previous comments and again bristling at the “lies” and misinformation being spread via “chain-emails”.
My question was in regard to the prevailing wage requirements any time stimulus dollars are spent on infrastructure projects (effectively doubling the wage of many workers on these projects). My example was the increase from ~$20/hr (County average) for truck drivers to over $40/hr on stimulus jobs. My point was that if these drivers were paid more in line with the normal or average wages of our county we could effectively put twice as many workers to work on stimulus projects. He said that Congress was “working on the problem”, but that prevailing wage requirements on Federal projects dictated the huge wage increases.
Once the meeting was adjourned I took the opportunity to approach Mr. Baird privately on the health care issue and more directly with his comments regarding Town Hall “protesters”. I told him that I agreed with him that the shouting down tactics at town halls and effigies were inappropriate, but that Democrats had little credibility when for 6 years they never stood against all the same behavior by left wing groups on issues like the war, immigration, social security reform and prescription drug reform in Medicare. (The fact of the matter is that they resorted to riots and destruction of property.)
I told him that I had video of being attacked in Pioneer Court House Square by “anti-war” protesters, that I received threats in the mail and harassing phone calls after letters to the editor. I reminded him of town halls and speeches that were disrupted by code pink, anti-war and other groups including unions every time a Republicans had a town hall during the Bush years, evidence that he saw for himself after taking a stance on Iraq that the “left” despised.
I told him that if he wanted credibility when discussing the “appropriate” way to engage in Town Halls he needed to point his finger at all of the offenders on either side (like the Democrat thugs beating people up in Tampa last week).
I also asked him to stop using the actions of a few people across the nation as an excuse to not engage his constituents on the important issues and that I thought that this gets to a deeper problem where we can’t have dialog and that I believe that some of his party insiders don’t want this dialog to happen.
He of course responded that “Your point is well-taken,”, “Whether it’s on the Left or the Right, it’s not acceptable.”
He went on to say that people like Rush Limbaugh are stoking the fires, making things worse. To which I responded that I did not care what Rush has to say, he is not an elected U.S. Congressman, that I hold him (Baird) to a higher standard.
I suggested to him that he choose his words carefully. That a majority of voters in my circles are against the health care plan, but that they are angry that their elected officials will not answer their questions and even angrier that their Congressman is calling them Brown Shirts, the Speaker of the House is calling them un-American and the President is telling them to shut up. However he meant the comments, they should not have been made.
At this point a good friend grabbed my shirt collar and suggested that I give others a chance.. so I walked away.. my point was made.
I was passionate but cordial, I did not raise my voice, but I am sure he knew my anger.
I can only hope that every voter in the 3rd CD will have an opportunity to have a frank and direct conversation with their Congressman. Please email, call or write Congressman Baird and remind him of his duty to face his constituents.
Be blunt, be forceful, and be respectful.