Monday, February 17, 2020
Feb. 17, 2020

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Health care attacks hit 3rd District candidates

Robocalls target Dems, whether in office or out

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The Republican Party targeted Democratic congressional candidates Craig Pridemore and Denny Heck with robocalls to their constituents Friday in a national campaign to paint Democrats as out of touch with the American public on health care reform.

“Even though a majority of the country wants them to scrap it, (House) Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama are planning to ram their dangerous, out-of-control health care spending bill through Congress anyway,” says the automated call, part of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s new “Code Red alert” campaign.

The NRCC campaign is targeting 25 House members who voted for health care last year, 10 who voted against it and four candidates for Congress, including Heck and Pridemore, who the party says “have yet to make their positions known.”

Both seek to succeed Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, as Washington’s 3rd District congressman.

Baird, who voted against the House health care reform bill last year, was not on the Code Red alert list, though the Web site Politico listed him Friday as one of 10 people “who’ll help determine whether Democrats can get a reform bill through.”

Democrats respond

Pridemore, D-Vancouver, issued a statement Friday denying that he’s “undecided” on health care reform.

“Let me be clear: I believe that Democrats in Congress should pass the bill, include a public option, and if necessary, use the reconciliation process to get it done,” he said.

On his campaign Web site, Pridemore elaborates: “Congress has failed to advance needed health care reform, and until principled voices arrive in Washington, D.C. to push for real change, we will never see the reductions in cost for individuals and small business needed to make health care available and affordable for all.”

As a state senator, he said, he has consistently worked to protect health care coverage for children, seniors and low-income families.

Heck said the robocalls are emblematic of what’s wrong with the health care debate.

“Frankly, I don’t think this is the way we move the ball down the field or the way we come to agreement on difficult public policy issues,” he said. “I think it’s an example of what people find so repulsive about how Washington is working.”

On the substance of health care reform, he said, “I think if we don’t do something to contain health care costs, it’s going to crush the life out of every household budget. I know how it affects business budgets because I deal with it every day. Health care costs rise at 4 to 5 times the rate of overall inflation, and it is the single leading cause of growth in the federal deficit.”

Heck declined to say specifically what he thinks should be included in a health reform bill.

“I specifically favor those measures that will provide more people with affordable health care,” he said. “I will freely admit I have not read the 2,000-page bill.”

He said the public is tired of the debate over how Congress is going about trying to pass or block health care reform.

“I don’t think people give a hootenanny about the nature of the process as long as it’s transparent and solves the problem,” he said. “I think Democrats and Republicans both embarrass themselves by not stepping up to this problem. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t believe that Congress is dysfunctional.”

Republicans weigh in

Last week, David Castillo, a Republican candidate in the 3rd District race, challenged his Democratic counterparts to declare whether they support Pelosi’s decision to use the budget reconciliation process to pass health care reform.

“Clearly, I will not be supporting Nancy Pelosi for speaker, or her health care plan, but the people of southwest Washington deserve to know where the Democrats in this race stand on the issue,” he said.

Castillo has called for private sector solutions rather than increased government intervention in the health care system. He favors expanding health savings accounts and association health plans and creating a more competitive insurance market by allowing people to purchase their policies across state lines.

State Rep. Jaime Herrera, R-Camas, also a 3rd District candidate, issued a statement on Thursday echoing the Republican party line.

“Congress is on the brink of passing legislation to have the government take over one of the largest sectors of our economy,” she said. “The bill will destroy private insurance plans for millions of middle-income families, increase costs for small businesses driving more jobs overseas, increase costs and taxes to Americans and add another trillion dollars to our national debt.”

‘Wild card’

In a Friday post, Politico called Baird “Washington’s wild card,” noting that he voted against the House health care reform bill last year after criticizing party leaders for failing to incorporate Republican ideas and complaining that the legislation would not slow the skyrocketing costs of health care.

Baird also said at the time he wouldn’t vote for the bill until he had a reliable estimate of how it would affect Medicare premiums.

On Friday, Baird said he’s still unwilling to vote for any health care reform bill unless he knows what he’s voting for.

“I’m insisting we have time to know what’s in the bill, what it would cost and how it would be paid for,” he said. “Second, I want some realistic idea of what the Senate would do if we do pass something through the House.”

Under the Democratic leadership’s plan, the House would pass the Senate health care bill without changes. The Senate would then amend the bill to make it less objectionable to the House using the budget reconciliation process, which requires only a simple majority vote.

That requires a level of trust in the Senate that Baird said he doesn’t necessarily share.

“When I question what the Senate will do, that’s not a criticism of (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid’s leadership,” he said. “They have to deal with a few extremists who are bent on tying everything up over there.”

Baird said Republicans “ought to be ashamed of how they have dealt with this.” In passing the Medicare prescription drug benefit during the Bush administration, he said, “they adopted the broadest expansion of an entitlement program in the history of the country,” with no plan for how to pay the $1 trillion price tag. “Now they are screaming that Democrats are socialists.”

Baird said he doesn’t share the sense of urgency Democratic leaders feel to get some kind of health care bill passed sooner rather than later.

He said he’s resisting “the extraordinary pressure folks like myself are under from people who don’t know what we’re voting on. I have friends who call and I say, ‘What bill do you want me to vote on? I haven’t seen it.’”

Without adequate information, Baird said, “you set yourself up to fail. This is so important, we can’t afford not to know what we’re doing.”

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.

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