Baird, Cantwell, and Smith: Agendas of Their Own

By Chris Kissel January 21, 2009

Here at PubliCola, we'll be tracking bills that members of Washington's delegation are pushing in Congress this historic session. Here are the most promising bills coming out of the gate.

Rep. Brian Baird’s sales-tax deduction bill (H.R. 16): On the first day of the current legislative session, Baird (D-WA, 3), with the backing of Sen. Maria Cantwell, introduced a bill that would make permanent the sales-tax exemption Washingtonians have been seeing on their tax returns since 2004. Washington is one of only seven states that has a sales tax but no income tax, and since 2004 our legislators have had a temporary refund renewed in Congress on an almost-yearly basis.

This year they’re shooting for something permanent.

“It's simply unfair that a person in Vancouver would pay more in federal income tax than a person who makes the same amount of money each year, but lives across the river in Portland," Baird told The Olympian last week.

Forty-seven House co-sponsors (including every Washington rep except Doc Hastings) have already piled onto Baird’s bill, The Olympian endorsed it, and Cantwell has a twin bill floating around the Senate right now that’s picked up its own fair share of sponsors.

Sen. Maria Cantwell's electric car bill (S.271): Cantwell's looking for money in the Senate stimulus bill to go toward credit for consumers who purchase plug-in electric vehicles. Cantwell was apparently sufficiently concerned by a lack of transparency in the Treasury's asset-buying program to vote against the second round of Wall Street bailout legislation last week, but it looks like she's still relying on stimulus money to fund her lean, green agenda.

Cantwell's bill is called the FREEDOM Act of 2009, and it expands a bill she passed last year as part of the Energy Bill of 2007. That bill, co-written by Cantwell, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Barack Obama, gave a $7,500 credit to people interested in buying electric cars (they're that expensive). Cantwell seems to see a lot of economic potential in the idea and wants to latch onto the stimulus bill.

“We need to take advantage of new technologies to bring our cars and trucks up to speed, save consumers money, create hundreds of thousands of jobs and diversify our country off of fossil fuels," Cantwell said in a statement.

So far, Cantwell and Hatch have signed up four more co-sponsors, including Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).

Rep. Adam Smith's combat disability compensation bill (H.R. 593): Smith, who holds down a spot on the House Armed Forced committee, has been more outspoken recently in his advocacy for a rise in veterans' disability benefits. Twenty co-sponsors have already signed onto his new bill, which expands the amount of benefits veterans receive. 

It apparently also redefines the term "combat-related injury," which the DOD slimmed down early last year. Smiths' bill wants the definition to be expanded to include coverage for wounded soldiers who were not injured specifically on the battlefield. A similar bill passed the House with a 99 percent majority last year but never made it to the Senate.

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