CORONAVIRUS

Sen. Joni Ernst optimistic about reopening economy but says health is first priority

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks to reporters Jan. 27 at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. (CNN screenshot)
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks to reporters Jan. 27 at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. (CNN screenshot)

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst appreciates President Donald Trump’s optimism about reopening the nation’s economy by Easter. But the Iowa Republican, who voted for a $2.2 trillion aid package, wants to follow guidance from health officials to “safeguard our population first.”

Ernst joined 95 other senators who on Wednesday night approved the aid package that could result in direct payments to Americans within week and provide assistance to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is a first step,” Ernst said, adding that if necessary, Congress will approve more assistance. The goal is to deliver the aid in weeks, not months, she said, but it will take some time as federal agencies implement and deliver on the plan.

“I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer. I want to be very optimistic,” because those agencies’ employees will be “working as hard as they can to get those dollars out the door” once the package is approved by the House and signed by Trump.

“Americans need to understand relief is on the way,” Ernst said. “I want to see our lives back to whatever normal is sooner rather than later.”

So she appreciates the president’s optimism, but said the priority must be safeguarding Americans from the coronavirus pandemic. Following the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health “will allow us to get our economy back on track sooner rather than later,” she said.

The Iowa Democratic Party, which hopes to defeat Ernst’s re-election effort, criticized her support for an earlier version of the aid package that didn’t include as much spending as it wanted. “A lot” of help for emergency health care and economic relief for Iowans would have been missing if it had been left up to Ernst, a spokesman said.

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The bill contained more spending than fiscal conservatives would have liked, Ernst said, but “nickel and diming at a time like this is unwarranted.”

She noted that the bipartisan agreement eliminated Democrats’ proposals to include the Green New Deal and stricter airline emission standards as a response to COVID-19.

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

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