Baird reflects on debates that seem from so long ago

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

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Frankly, I wanted to dislike Brian Baird.

From 1999 to 2011, Baird was the representative from Washington's 3rd Congressional District, which includes Clark County. Seeing as how he was a Democrat, he played a role in the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act. In other words, he is partly responsible for Obamacare.

In my mind, there are worse things that can be said about a person. Others might disagree. Obamacare has been portrayed in some circles as being either the spawn of Satan or the Seventh Sign of the Apocalypse. It's un-American; it's going to destroy the economy; it's socialistic and evil and must be stopped. That's what the critics say. Republicans have even threatened to shut down the government in an effort to stop Obamacare, which, when you think about it, might not be a bad idea.

Anyway, with all of this Obamacare talk in the news, I decided to go straight to the source. Baird now is president of Antioch University Seattle, and I gave him a call to get his thoughts on Obamacare and the rugby scrums that pass for diplomacy these days.

"I had mixed feelings about the bill from the very start," Baird said. "I asked President Obama, 'Why don't we start with something smaller? I felt the bill was too complicated. I think we should have started with the very simple premise of let's not discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. If we're going to go bold, let's go bold and make the whole thing simple."

For Baird, coverage for people with pre-existing conditions was the deal-maker.

"That is a terrifying reality for people," he said. "The choice was not between the ACA and some fair, comprehensive alternative. It was vote for that or nothing. Do I wish we had another alternative? Yes."

Baird actually did his job

Personally, I think that if you don't have a fair, comprehensive option, then doing nothing is the better alternative. And Baird's vote remains unforgiveable for many of his former constituents. He verbally clashed with local protesters at town hall meetings during the time that health care reform was being debated, and he complained that activists were using "brownshirt tactics" to disrupt meetings. In December 2009, he announced that he would not seek re-election the following November.

Now, three years after its passage, Obamacare remains a point of contention. And with good reason. The administration has unilaterally delayed implementation of certain provisions; members of Congress have been granted an exemption from purchasing insurance on the health care exchange; and a growing number of companies are reducing workers' hours in order to avoid the provision that forces them to provide insurance. Obamacare hasn't been fully implemented yet, and already it has broken its promises to the American people.

One frequent complaint is that legislators didn't even read the mega-bill before voting on it, and then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi infamously said, "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what's in it."

In that regard, Baird is unusual.

"I was one of the few members of Congress who read the whole bill, maybe the only one," he said. "One of the advantages of a cross-country flight.

"I sat in the Oval Office and looked President Obama in the eye and said, 'I will not vote for this bill, no matter what, unless we have a minimum of three days to read it.'"

Baird actually did his job. He considered all the facts, he employed due diligence, and he did what he thought was best for the country. I happen to disagree with him, and that's OK. Reasonable people can disagree reasonably, something that all too often is lost on Washington, D.C.

"No," Baird said with a quick laugh when asked if he missed Congress. "Not right now. Last weekend, for example, I was camping in the mountains with my family. A) Life is good here; B) Life is dysfunctional there."

So, even though we disagree on Obamacare, I came away liking Brian Baird. Perhaps more important, I came away respecting him.