Government

Iowa Democratic Senate hopefuls take aim at Joni Ernst in virtual forum

Michael Franken, Kimberly Graham, Theresa Greenfield, Eddie Mauro and Cal Woods appeared individually at the beginning o
Michael Franken, Kimberly Graham, Theresa Greenfield, Eddie Mauro and Cal Woods appeared individually at the beginning of an online forum April 19 for Iowa Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate. All five candidates participated in another virtual forum Sunday hosted by the Democratic parties in Benton, Iowa and Poweshiek counties.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Democrats running for their party’s U.S. Senate nomination agreed that an assault weapons ban should be reinstated, but that didn’t stop them from taking shots at their common target, Sen. Joni Ernst.

Not only does Ernst oppose re-establishing the assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004, but the first-term Republican is on the wrong side of health care, climate change, agriculture and energy issues, the five Democrats argued in the Prime the Primary virtual forum Sunday afternoon hosted by the Democratic parties in Benton, Iowa and Poweshiek counties.

The Democrats are running, as retired three-star admiral Mike Franken said, to “negate the things that got Joni Ernst elected to begin with.”

It’s ironic that Ernst’s “make ’em squeal” campaign ad propelled her to victory in 2014, attorney Kimberly Graham said. Rather than take on the special interests, the Democrats said, she has been the tool of corporate interests and fallen in line with President Donald Trump, whose policies on agriculture, trade, renewable fuels and more have hurt Iowans.

Asked about health care, specifically rural health care, Graham said that by voting to end the Affordable Care Act and protections for preexisting conditions, Ernst “has not been a friend of regular Iowans.”

Graham said she’s the only candidate in the field who supports a universal, single-payer health care system because it’s “the only way that we are going to get health care that is truly acceptable.”

The COVID-19 crisis has “put a spotlight on the inequities in our health care and in particular, when it comes to our rural health care systems,” Des Moines businesswoman Theresa Greenfield said. She called for strengthening the Affordable Care Act and adding a public option.

Ernst’s opposition to Obamacare “would end Medicaid expansion, which would threaten so many of our rural hospitals,” she said.

Des Moines businessman Eddie Mauro called for a Peace Corps-like domestic health care program to recruit new and retired health care professionals to work in rural Iowa and other underserved areas.

As a senator, Mauro said he would lead hearings on the privatization of Medicaid, which he called “particularly devastating” for rural Iowa.

“COVID-19 has also demonstrated that we must make sure that health care is there for every American, a massive public health care plan that provides health care for all Americans, because it’s a human right,” he said.

Much of America’s health care problem stems from the fact that 62 cents of every health care dollar is spent on things other than direct patient care, Des Moines businessman Cal Woods said. Twenty cents is spent on marketing and advertising, and on salaries at for-profit insurance companies, he said. Another 12 cents is wasted because of overpaying for prescription drugs.

The United States could have a world-class health care system if Congress would “allocate money away from insurance companies, away from administrative costs and away from the amount that we overpaid for pharmaceuticals,” he said.

In the near term, Franken argued, rural hospitals need help in the next coronavirus relief bill. Community health centers also need support so they can serve non-COVID-19 patients, he said, and people should be allowed to opt into Medicare on a short-term basis.

The primary election is June 2. The winner will face Ernst in a race the Cook Political Report rated “leans Republican.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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