Thursday, August 6, 2020
Aug. 6, 2020

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Herrera hits the Hill

Baird confronts transition, unfinished business

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Rep.-elect Jaime Herrera of Camas, a Republican, talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on during Congressional freshmen orientation.
Rep.-elect Jaime Herrera of Camas, a Republican, talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on during Congressional freshmen orientation. Photo Gallery

The time is now for Jaime Herrera, newly elected to serve Washington’s Third Congressional District.

The number?

She hopes to draw a good one at Friday’s lottery for U.S. House office building locations: A scrap among the more than 80 GOP newcomers who make up a full third of a new House Republican majority.

“I’m hoping the people of Southwest Washington who come to see me, can find me. It may be a closet,” Herrera said by telephone late Monday after a whirlwind day of freshman orientation and socializing.

Not that she’s grousing.

“There’s a great diversity of talents” in the large Republican group, she said. But also strong consensus to add new jobs and restore economic order, she said: “There’s a unity of purpose.”

Herrera and her husband, Dan Beutler, caught a long, overnight flight to arrive in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. She then dove straight into rubbing shoulders with colleagues with whom she’ll face great challenges, but also great opportunity.

“To be part of this body is an amazing thing,” said the former legislative aide to U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Colville, no stranger to Capitol Hill frenzy. Now, voters expect results, she said.

“It puts me in the mind, I’m not going to squander that trust and belief in me to do this,” Herrera said. “I’ll give it everything I’ve got.”

It was a day of interesting encounters. Herrera attended a reception for all newcomers in the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., soon-to-be former House speaker, and met her husband.

Earlier, Beutler crossed paths with Herrera’s predecessor, outgoing Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, who declined to seek re-election after six two-year House terms.

While Herrera waits on new digs, Baird is busy packing up his office. His nearby townhouse, too. He and his wife, Rachel Nugent, will soon move to a home purchased in Edmonds, near Seattle.

First, there’s that messy lame duck session of Congress to slog through. Large, unsettled issues hang over a Democratic leadership that America’s voters chose to eject from the driver’s seat.

What to make of extending, or killing, income tax cuts pressed by former Pres. George W. Bush? Expiring unemployment benefits, for millions of idled workers? The U.S. military’s don’t ask-don’t tell policy? A costly but overdue raise in Medicare payments to physicians?

Baird’s suggestion on most of the heavy lifting: Punt.

“I’m serious about that,” he said Monday. He said Congress should vote to extend tax cuts and a temporary bump in Medicare physician payments, but only to January, when the GOP takes over.

“People ran for office promising they would cut taxes, and not cut Medicare and Social Security. And, sustain the war effort in (the middle East). And, cut the budget deficit.

“Here’s a fine opportunity to come through on those promises,” Baird said, willing to let the GOP face the quandary.

“There’s some merit in inviting people who ran on easier promises to run into the harder realities of our situation,” he said. “Maybe they’ll step up to the task. Maybe they’ll be able to do all those things.”

A bit cynical, sure. But, Baird doesn’t see it as Democrats’ ducking their duty.

“This is the logical outcome” of past fiscal choices made when Bush and the GOP held power, “a ticking time bomb,” he said. “That legacy now comes home to roost.”

Herrera said she hopes House leaders reject that thinking.

“I would hope the reason the current leadership brought this whole (lame duck) group back was to do something substantive, even if it’s temporary,” she said.

A two-year extension of Bush tax breaks sounds just about right, she said.

Final shots?

It’s Baird who votes next, however. He’d rather preserve income tax cuts only for individuals who earn $100,000 or less per year. He said he can’t fathom some colleagues who suggest preserving breaks for millionaires — and not just those with $1 million in assets.

“We’ve got communities with 15-20 percent unemployment, and we’re giving tax breaks to people with a million dollars of income? I just find that preposterous,” he said. “I’m a deficit hawk. I just recoil at these deficits we’re passing.”

Baird would retain the federal estate tax but shelter small businesses and farms worth $5 million or less, he said.

He said he hopes a House provision to extend a federal tax exemption on Washington state sales tax charges isn’t folded into unsavory tax-break legislation.

Baird would ditch the military’s don’t ask-don’t tell policy, and allow gays to openly serve. A requested military study supports repeal of “don’t ask”, he said, but threats of a Senate filibuster may doom a vote, anyway.

There must be a continuing funding resolution or omnibus spending package, since the House still hasn’t passed the several appropriations budgets that are its chief duty, Baird noted. But he decries any ban on congressional earmarks, what he calls a reactionary move to eliminate members’ say on spending for home-district projects.

“That would be massively stupid. Right problem; wrong solution,” Baird said. Members work within finite appropriations budgets to fund local projects that fairly have earned top priority. There’s no harm, so long as the process is transparent, he said.

Staying, leaving

Baird doesn’t flinch when asked about Democrats’ choice to keep the leadership team of Pelosi, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer and South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn. He’ll have no vote on leadership this week as a lame duck, but likens the move to “driving lemmings off the cliff,” he said.

“Look, we just got cleaned. We just lost 60 people. I find it rather astonishing that we not change the leadership,” he said. He said leaders’ “very secure seats” were largely to blame for their clinging to unpopular views.

“It’s their call; I’m out. But … it’s indicative of some of the problems that got us here,” he said.

Herrera said Baird and his staff have reached out to make her D.C. transition a smooth one, and expressed gratitude.

For his part, Baird said he hopes civility and respect will drive the new Congress.

“This has been a great honor, to serve. I take it very seriously,” said Baird, troubled by candidates who trash the very chamber they fought so hard to join. “I hope that they’ll show a sense of responsibility, once they inhabit the office.”

Baird and his wife will make way for Edmonds, near to her family and promising job leads in her global economics field, he said.

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