Government

Tom Harkin: 2020 election about health care

Former U.S. senator predicts Joe Biden would improve Obamacare 'starter home'

Democrat Tom Harkin greets those at a Sept. 23, 2018, political event in Iowa City. Harkin, who represented Iowa for 30
Democrat Tom Harkin greets those at a Sept. 23, 2018, political event in Iowa City. Harkin, who represented Iowa for 30 years in the U.S. Senate, said Wednesday the 2020 election is about health care, and that President Joe Biden would complete and improve the “starter home” that Obamacare represents. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

It’s not the names on the ballot. The 2020 election is about health care and finishing the Obamacare “starter home” he helped build, according to former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin.

“Forget about Biden-Trump, health care is on the ballot,” the former chairman of the Senate Health Committee said Wednesday on a call arranged by the Biden presidential campaign.

“I’m just saying this as Tom Harkin, citizen, I don’t think there’s any more important issue confronting the American people today than what’s going to happen to the Affordable Care Act,” Harkin said.

Harkin, 80, who was a member of the Health, Education, Welfare and Labor Committee for the 30 years he represented Iowa in the Senate, predicted that with Joe Biden as president, regardless of which party controls the Senate, Congress will approve a public option — a government-run health insurance agency to compete with private insurers.

With Biden’s ability to work across the aisle, “I think we can get some moderate Republicans to actually go along with having a public option,” he said.

A Trump campaign spokeswoman said there’s no reason Iowans would support Biden on health care.

“If there is one state in the entire country that has suffered more under Obamacare, it was Iowa,” Preya Samsundar said, referring to a Politico story headlined “How Iowa became an Obamacare horror story.”

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“So the idea Iowans would support Joe Biden’s plan to expand Obamacare without fixing it is ridiculous,” Samsundar said. “Frankly, for Iowans to even trust Joe Biden to fix the health care system he broke is outrageous.”

Harkin was joined on the call by Dan Callahan, an Independence, Iowa, veteran who has a preexisting condition contracted while serving in Iraq, and Elena Delle Donne, a Women’s National Basketball Association player whose wife is from Davenport.

When Harkin introduced the Affordable Care Act on the Senate floor, he referred to it as a starter home, “a great beginning.”

“Our intent was always that we would add on to it and improve it,” he said. “Our goal was nothing less than every American, regardless of income or health status, would have access to dependable, quality preventive health care in America. And basically, we did deliver on that.”

That’s at risk in the 2020 election because President Donald Trump and Republicans have been promising to repeal and replace Obamacare.

“But 10 years later, all I’ve seen is plans and laws and bills to repeal it. But I’ve seen no replacement,” he said.

It’s time for Democrats to realize Obamacare was a failed experiment, Samsundar pushed back.

“It’s time for them to work with Republican colleagues and President Trump to put together a health care plan that works for Iowans and everyday Americans,” she said.

The ACA also is threatened by court challenges, Harkin said, which makes the selection of the next Supreme Court justice critically important. The court is set to hear arguments on a decision from the 5th Circuit Court in a Texas case challenging the constitutionality of the ACA. If the Supreme Court upholds that decision — or does nothing — the lower court decision would stand.

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“Think about this,” he said. “If, in fact, a new person is put on the Supreme Court that agrees with this position, then early next year, the Supreme Court could wipe out the Affordable Care Act.”

The only thing that can save the ACA, Harkin said, is a Biden presidency and Democratic-controlled Senate that can overturn the courts’ decisions.

“That’s our safety valve and that’s why this election is so important,” he said. “We have to make sure that Joe Biden is president, and that we have a United States Senate that will work with him to ensure that this starter home that we started 10 years ago, is able to be finally added to and finished, so that every American is going to have quality, affordable health care insurance.”

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

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