Washington, D.C. – With deep sadness, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) mourns the death of its co-founder and former Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr. The senator was 88 years old.
In 2007, Senator Baker established BPC with three other Senate Majority Leaders: Bob Dole, Tom Daschle and George Mitchell. In creating BPC, Senator Baker and his colleagues sought to provide a bipartisan forum where tough political, social, economic and security challenges could be addressed in a pragmatic and politically viable way. Today, BPC acts as an incubator for collaborative solutions to pressing issues facing the nation.
BPC Co-founder and former Senator Daschle said, “Howard Baker’s distinguished career, as senator and statesman, is a product of his unique capacity to win the confidence and trust of even those with whom he fundamentally disagreed. It was a joy and privilege to work with Howard in establishing the Bipartisan Policy Center.”
Baker was most instrumental in BPC’s work on health care by launching the Leaders’ Project on the State of American Health Care. The project helped to inform the national health care debate in 2009 and 2010. With Senators Dole and Daschle, he co-wrote Crossing Our Lines: Working Together to Reform the U.S. Health System, a bipartisan blueprint for health care reform released in June 2009.
Both during and after his time in the Senate, Baker was known as a staunch supporter of bipartisanship. At the release of the Leaders’ Project report, Baker remarked, “We are facing a critical moment in our nation’s history. Health reform can be achieved. But in order for that to happen, we must work beyond our points of disagreement and focus on reaching bipartisan solutions.”
Baker became Tennessee’s first popularly elected Republican senator in 1966. During his tenure in the Senate from 1967 to 1985, Baker served two terms as Majority Leader and two terms as Minority Leader. He was most visible as vice-chair of the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973. Baker’s distinguished record of legislative accomplishments show his penchant for compromise and bipartisan action.
He collaborated with Democratic Senator Edmund Muskie to draft two seminal environmental laws: the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Baker also supported the controversial Panama Canal Treaties, championed by Democratic President Jimmy Carter.
BPC Co-founder and former Senator Dole, who replaced Baker as Senate Republican leader in 1985, said, “Howard’s reputation as the ‘Great Conciliator’ was well earned. He was a person you could work with. In the Senate, he was able to accomplish so much because he cultivated mutual respect and cooperation with his opponents.”
“Senator Baker’s conciliatory style as majority leader was legendary,” said BPC Co-founder and former Senator Mitchell. “Howard always represented the gold standard for working with others—not against or around them. He acted on the belief that principled cooperation is the key to progress.”
“I’m a lifelong and proud Republican,” Baker once said. “Unlike some, however, I don’t believe loyalty to party precludes common sense decision and policymaking. Some of our nation’s greatest triumphs have come when political leaders have not allowed partisan differences to deter their efforts to find solutions that are in our nation’s best interest.”
Statements like that did not surprise BPC President Jason Grumet: “Senator Baker was a consummate statesman. He always reminded us that to make real progress, you have to build bridges that connect the best ideas from divergent ideologies.”
In 2003, the University of Tennessee established the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy in honor of his leadership. Like its namesake, the Center prizes the importance of “examining policy and politics through a nonpartisan lens.”
Baker is survived by his wife, former Kansas Senator Nancy Kassenbaum Baker, his son Darek and daughter Cissy, and his grandchildren.