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More than 100 activists staged a colorful “Hands Off My Health Care” rally outside U.S. Rep. Brian Baird’s Vancouver office Tuesday, urging him to stand firm against the health care reform bill that is moving toward a House vote later this week.
The colonial leader Samuel Adams, an influential figure in the years leading up to the American Revolution, showed up at the rally in the person of Tom Niewulis. He invoked the Constitution and warned that individual liberties are at risk in the campaign to pass health care reform.
“When the Declaration of Independence was written, it was written to protect our liberties,” Niewulis declared.
Two real-life Republican candidates for the seat Baird is retiring from, David Castillo and state Rep. Jaime Herrera, showed up to court the Tea Party crowd as well.
With his refusal to commit to casting a pivotal yes vote on health care reform, Baird is in the spotlight like never before. He has said he won’t vote for the legislation in its current form until he has reliable estimates of how it would affect the premiums of people who already have health insurance, including those enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid.
Over the past week, Baird’s offices in Vancouver, Olympia and Washington, D.C., have fielded more than 3,600 phone calls on the issue — 90 percent from outside Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.
Within the district, calls are running 50-50 for and against the current House strategy for passing health care reform, said Baird spokesman Adam Hudson.
Tuesday’s rally was organized by a local group, We The People Vancouver, in cooperation with the national group Americans for Prosperity, one of the lead organizations behind the Tax Day Tea Party protests on April 15, 2009.
Shari Parsons of Vancouver, who wore a straw hat with tea bags dangling from the brim, said Congress should stick to the Constitution and “keep its nose out” of health care.
“They’ve forgotten they work for us,” she said of members of Congress.
Marla Shirts of Vancouver carried a handmade sign saying “Brian Baird, Don’t be Scared.” She praised Baird’s decision to vote against the House health care reform bill last November and said she hopes he continues to demand fiscal responsibility.
“We all agree that there need to be some changes in health care, but not like this,” she said. “It’s too expensive, it cuts into Medicare. They can’t take $500 billion out of Medicare and not have an impact on seniors.”
Castillo, an Olympia financial adviser and former Department of Homeland Security official, called Baird’s stand “thoughtful.” He said he believes the federal government’s role in health care should be limited to providing high-risk pool coverage to people who can’t afford insurance and opening the health care market to let people buy insurance across state lines.
Herrera, who showed up from Olympia just as the rally was ending, articulated similar policy positions. She called on Baird not to vote for any bill that passes through the budget reconciliation process. “We need to hold his feet to the fire,” she said.
Kirby Wilbur, Washington state director for Americans for Prosperity, gave a rousing speech, warning that everything the Tea Party movement has fought for over the past year is at stake in the upcoming votes in Congress.
“We stand on the verge of destroying the best health care system in the world,” he said. “Congressman Baird, we ask that you leave us a legacy: Less control, less debt, more liberty.”
Borrowing Barack Obama’s signature presidential campaign slogan, Wilbur declared, “Our slogan between now and Nov. 2 should be, ‘Yes We Can! Take our Congress back!’”
Castillo scored an important endorsement in the competitive 3rd District race Tuesday when the Freedom Works Political Action Committee announced that it would back his campaign. The group, led by former U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, a Texas Republican, is strongly allied with the Tea Party movement and could infuse Castillo’s campaign with needed cash.
Baird incurred the wrath of Washington State Democratic Chairman Dwight Pelz when he voted against the original House health care reform bill last year.
As an indication of the growing influence of the Tea Party movement, Pelz on Tuesday called on Democrats to support health care reform with generous contributions so the party can counter massive Tea Party protests that are expected during the April congressional break.
He predicted that even if House Democrats pass the complex legislative package necessary to move forward, “the battle will continue.”
“When we have the funding, we are able to deploy our grass roots organization, use our c-munications tools, and support our candidates and elected officials in the field,” Pelz said.
In Clark County, Democratic Party Chairwoman Dena Horton said party members have been using phone banks the past week-and-a-half to encourage “Baird to vote yes on health care reform.”