Government

Health advocacy groups hit Sen. Joni Ernst with CDC defunding claim

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks with reporters after a May 19 Senate Republican luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks with reporters after a May 19 Senate Republican luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington. Two health advocacy groups are launching digital ads today that attack the senator’s votes on health issues. (Associated Press)

A pair of progressive advocacy groups pushing for health care reform are launching a multimillion ad campaign hitting Sen. Joni Ernst for votes they say could have limited the nation’s top health agency’s ability to respond to health threats, including coronavirus.

Iowa Forward, in partnership with Progress Iowa, is debuting a $2.5 million ad campaign on digital platforms and, possibly later on television, calling out Ernst for votes they say could have eliminated $1 billion in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ernst, a first-term Republican, is seeking re-election.

The first ad, “Here We Are,” which begins airing today, highlights Ernst’s vote to eliminate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. Without that funding, CDC said it ability to “detect, prevent, and respond to health threats” would be crippled.

The Prevention and Public Health Fund supports heart disease and stroke prevention, immunization, lead poisoning prevention and diabetes prevention, mostly through grants to states and local programs, according to the CDC.

“The health and safety of Iowans depends on us having every necessary tool at our disposal to fight this global pandemic,” said Mazie Stilwell, spokeswoman for Iowa Forward.

Ernst’s vote against those funds “put Iowans in harm’s way” by leaving the CDC ill-equipped to deal with the current public health emergency that has claimed nearly 600 Iowa lives to date.

“Iowans deserve to know when their senator is voting against their best interest, especially when so many lives are on the line,” Stilwell said.

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The attack is a non-starter, according to Ernst’s campaign, because Ernst “voted to, and actually did, increase funding for the CDC.”

Campaign spokesman Brendan Donley said Ernst voted for the 2020 fiscal year appropriations bill that included a $2.6 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health and a $636.8 million increase for CDC.

“Once again, Theresa Greenfield is relying on outside money to deceive Iowans and spread proven falsehoods,” Conley said, referring to Ernst’s Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 general election.

Multiple fact-checks, including by the Associated Press and The Gazette, “have shown that Joni Ernst voted to and successfully did increase funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institutes of Health,” he said.

However, Iowa Forward and Progress point to Ernst’s 2017 vote for the so-called “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act that would have abolished the individual mandate. It also included a $1 billion cut to the Prevention and Public Health Fund. It failed, 51-49, in the GOP-controlled House.

The CDC is vital to the nation’s pandemic response as well as day-to-day public health, according to Megan Srinivas, an infectious disease physician from Fort Dodge.

“From providing guidance for medical professionals to instructing the public on personal safety measures, our communities are better equipped to handle this coronavirus crisis because of the work done by the CDC,” Srinivas said.

“The work of the CDC should be at the forefront of our elected officials’ minds when they are making budget decisions,” Srinivas said. “Eliminating, or even attempting to eliminate, these appropriations is irresponsible for our public health.”

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In 2017, the outgoing Obama administration conducted an exercise on pandemic response for the incoming Trump administration showing that the United States was not ready for a pandemic.

Calling Ernst’s 2017 vote for the so-called “skinny repeal” of Obamacare “reckless” and “appalling,” Progress Iowa Executive Director Matt Sinovic said her actions put Iowans’ health at risk during a pandemic.

“She should start putting Iowans ahead of special interests,” he said.

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

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