Staff Editorial

Five issues Iowa's federal candidates must address between now and Election Day

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Iowans started 2020 during a historic Iowa caucus season and we’re heading toward a historic general election in November. In between, there has been an infectious disease pandemic and a mass protest movement for racial justice.

At the federal level, Iowans will vote for president, U.S. Senate and U.S. House.

While President Donald Trump carried the state by nearly 10 points in 2016, most of Iowa’s federal contests appear to be competitive this cycle.

This is not a normal election. For one, politicians have been forced to switch much of their campaign activity to virtual venues to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Even more importantly, candidates for elected office must explain how they would lead the nation through the historic crises we now face.

COVID-19

Perhaps the biggest political news story of this year is the Trump administration’s failure to assemble any kind of meaningful national response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The president and federal bureaucrats refused to issue social distancing or isolation restrictions on a national level, bungled the rollout of reliable and accessible virus tests, and even interfered with state governments’ efforts to acquire supplies.

The virus is expected to persist into 2021, so whoever is president next January, the mismanagement and undercutting have to stop. The federal government should be a partner to states in their pandemic response efforts, instead of undermining them with misstatements that obscure the severity of the public health crisis.

Put simply, we need a president and members of Congress who acknowledge COVID-19 is a real problem and who are prepared to use the federal government’s vast resources to curb the virus’s transmission.

Health care

The COVID-19 pandemic has made defects in the U.S. health care system even more painfully clear than they already were.

Most pressing are the disparities in access and health outcomes between certain cohorts of the population: Black and brown Iowans are more likely to acquire and die from a COVID-19 infection, women struggle to get adequate care throughout the system and people living in rural areas see their health care facilities threatened by potential closure.

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After Republicans won the presidency and House and held the Senate in 2016, they failed to deliver on their promise to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” taking aim at the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Instead, they have incrementally weakened the health insurance system without offering many alternatives to people who can’t get covered.

The next president and Congress must make another go at real, bipartisan health care reform that promotes access and controls costs.

Economic recovery

The economic costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing shutdowns are huge and growing.

It might take multiple installments of large stimulus bills to keep the workforce and supply chains going during the pandemic. Support should be directed at individuals and small businesses, with more scrutiny and oversight for large corporations applying for cash.

Some Republican policymakers seem to take the view that if they ignore the virus, it’s not real. In reality, though, foregoing basic best practices for virus mitigation will lead to far greater economic pain in the long run. To that end, the federal government should bolster state public health budgets so local leaders can get the virus under control and safely resume economic activity.

Higher education

Colleges resuming campus life this fall will be confronted by both of the country’s ongoing crises — coronavirus and civil unrest.

The University of Iowa’s class resumption plans already are causing controversy, weeks before classes are set to start. Students are confused about plans for in-person and online education, instructors say the university is failing to protect their health and some students are planning to skip this school year.

Federal policymakers should prepare for the possibility that a massive reduction in college enrollment will threaten the financial sustainability of public institutions. A cash influx might be appropriate to keep our schools afloat.

At the same time, college towns will continue to be hot spots for racial justice and anti-police brutality demonstrations. The government should assure campus leaders that federal law enforcement officers won’t show up on campus to needlessly escalate the situation, as we have seen in a few major cities the last couple weeks.

Police reform

More than ever before, Iowans are taking notice of racist disparities in our law enforcement systems, brought to the forefront by controversial police killings this year and huge protests throughout the country.

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State governments are most responsible for overseeing and reforming police conduct, but the federal government has an important role to play as well.

For one thing, elected officials should stop making matters worse, as Trump has done with his hostile dismissal of Black Lives Matter organizers’ demands for change.

Beyond that, Congress and the president should start a discussion about winding down the federal government’s enormous drug and immigration enforcement programs, which breed animosity and distrust among the public while failing to make us safer.

Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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