The qualities we pray for

Gary Kroeger’s thoughts on the coming campaign in a targeted Congressional district where Democrats Abby Finkenauer and Courtney Rowe are already running. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Two years ago I was in the Democratic primary to unseat Representative Rod Blum in Iowa’s first Congressional district. Along with businessman Ravi Patel and Cedar Rapids city council member Monica Vernon, I ran on progressive values and we strengthened each other’s resolve by engaging every single day with constituents and with each other.

By late summer, Mr. Patel left the primary race and former State Representative Pat Murphy joined. By the following spring (the race was so long I saw seasons change 7 times), I bowed out to support Monica Vernon because I felt that she had the best chance of winning. I went on to run for the Iowa House and Vernon gained the nomination to run against Blum, but incumbents are hard to beat and political intangibles were not in our favor and we both lost.

I’m not pointing this out to re-live the narrative of defeat, but to re-vive the spirit on which we all ran. It was the conviction that we, as Iowans, and as Americans, can do better. We each ran in our respective races because we believed that a dramatic course correction was necessary.

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Rod Blum, David Young lie to cover for reversal on health care bill

All three Iowa Republicans helped the American Health Care Act clear the U.S. House on May 4 with only one vote to spare. Representative Steve King (IA-04) has long called for repealing the 2010 health care reform law “root and branch” and came around to supporting the GOP replacement proposal in March. So nothing about his vote was surprising, aside from his awkward description of how former Representative Michele Bachmann’s “finger joined mine today to push my vote button to dismantle” Obamacare.

Unlike King, Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01) and David Young (IA-03) made a big show of opposing the AHCA in March. Blum pledged to insist on lower costs for consumers and helping “people who need the help.” Young repeatedly promised to protect people with pre-existing conditions while making sure the bill wouldn’t bring back caps on health benefits.

Feigning concern about the legislative process, Blum said in March, “I believe Congress should slow down and discuss in an open and transparent manner” how to address the “unsustainably high cost of healthcare in America.” Similarly, Young warned, “The ACA [Affordable Care Act] was rushed through Congress and to President Obama’s desk which resulted in a failed law that does not work for everyone [….] It is a fundamental principle that repeal, reforms and fixes to healthcare are done in the right way, for the right reasons, and in the right amount of time it takes to ensure we avoid the mistakes of the past. We need to be thoughtful and deliberate and get this right […].”

Over the past week, Blum studiously avoided comment as GOP leaders sought ways to give members cover for caving. Young’s staff told hundreds of callers he was still against the bill, even as late as Wednesday morning. The same day, he signed on as co-sponsor of an amendment that “comes nowhere close to meeting Republican commitments to people with pre-existing conditions.”

Self-styled deficit hawk Blum and “affordable for every patient” Young proceeded to vote for the bill without waiting for a Congressional Budget Office score to tell them “how many people it covers or how much it would cost.” It wasn’t the first time Young reversed his position on a matter of principle to please his party leaders.

In their comments on the House vote, Young and Blum tried to take credit for imaginary improvements in the AHCA. Their claims can’t withstand scrutiny.

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Young and Loebsack yes, Blum and King no on keeping the government running

A federal government shutdown before October appears unlikely now that the U.S. House has approved a $1.1 trillion deal to fund the government through the current fiscal year. The roll call for the May 3 vote shows that Iowa’s Representatives David Young (IA-03) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) were among the 131 Republicans and 178 Democrats to support the funding measure. Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01) and Steve King (IA-04) voted against it. Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill,

Democrats claimed victory over what the spending bill lacked: funding for the U.S.-Mexico border wall promised by President Trump, restrictions on federal grants for so-called “sanctuary cities” that shield immigrants from deportation and steep cuts to domestic programs proposed by the White House. […]

The legislation also includes an extension of health benefits for retired coal miners and $1.1 billion in disaster assistance. Funding for Planned Parenthood remains untouched.

Republicans, unable to otherwise advance many conservative policy priorities in the bill, touted the $15 billion increase for defense spending. That’s approximately half of the $30 billion in supplemental military spending requested by the Trump administration earlier this year.

It’s still a break from the Obama era, when Democrats insisted that any hike in defense spending had to be matched by an increase in non-defense programs.

Assuming the U.S. Senate passes the spending bill tomorrow, President Donald Trump can sign it before current funding expires on May 5. Trump seems to be itching for a government shutdown, but not just yet.

The other big news from the House is that Republican leaders now believe they have the votes to pass a health care reform bill on May 4. Young is among the high-profile flip-floppers on the American Health Care Act. In March, he opposed the bill, saying health care fixes must be “done in the right way, for the right reasons, and in the right amount of time it takes to ensure we avoid the mistakes of the past. We need to be thoughtful and deliberate and get this right to achieve accessible, affordable quality healthcare.” Over the past week, his staff have told hundreds of constituent callers (some as recently as today) that he opposed the bill.

But this afternoon, Young agreed to co-sponsor an amendment providing a pitiful extra $8 billion over five years–spread across an unknown number of states–to cover people with pre-existing conditions. Get this: the $8 billion would go to states that “apply for waivers allowing insurers to charge higher rates based on a person’s ‘health status’”–that is, states that let insurance companies gouge people with pre-existing conditions. Young has previously stated, “no one should be denied access to affordable healthcare because of a pre-existing condition.” He repeated that commitment in a recent meeting with Indivisible activists.

Aviva Aron-Dine of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained that “the $8 billion would restore less than 1 percent of the nearly $1 trillion the House bill cuts from programs that help people afford coverage.” Furthermore, “the House bill creates major problems for people with pre-existing conditions that the new funding doesn’t even purport to solve.”

Bleeding Heartland will have more to say on health care reform in a forthcoming post. For now, read Sarah Kliff on the absurdity of House Republicans voting for a bill that will affect millions of people and a huge portion of the U.S. economy, “without knowing how many people it covers or how much it would cost.” Nothing supports Young’s press release asserting that the new GOP proposal “will help make healthcare coverage less expensive than under current law […] and accessible for patients who need it most.”

Blum has not commented publicly on his plans, but Congress-watchers expect him to follow Young’s path, voting for a bill he claimed to oppose on principle six weeks ago.

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Hear more from Abby Finkenauer, who's running for Congress in IA-01

Declaring that “Iowans need a fighter who is on their side” who “isn’t afraid to take on out-of-state corporate interests,” State Representative Abby Finkenauer of Dubuque made it official this morning: she will run for Congress next year, rather than seek a third term in the Iowa House. Her campaign is online here, and she’s on Twitter and Instagram @abby4Iowa and on Facebook at Abby4Congress.

I enclose below Finkenauer’s campaign announcement as well as parts of a passionate speech she delivered on the Iowa House floor last month. I also included excerpts from the transcript of last weekend’s Iowa Public Television program featuring Finkenauer and State Senator Nate Boulton. Some of her remarks echoed themes she raised before a group of Democratic activists in Des Moines in late March. Bleeding Heartland published the full text and audio of that speech here.

Finkenauer joins Cedar Rapids-based engineer Courtney Rowe, the first Democrat to launch a campaign in IA-01. Former State Senator Steve Sodders recently ruled out running for Congress. Earlier this year, State Senator Jeff Danielson of Waterloo and Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson said they are considering this race, but to my knowledge neither has taken concrete steps toward a campaign yet.

Two-term Republican Representative Rod Blum is a top 2018 target for Iowa and U.S. House Democrats. The 20 counties in IA-01 contain 161,355 active registered Democrats, 143,269 Republicans, and 187,099 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. The largest-population counties are Linn (the Cedar Rapids metro area), Black Hawk (Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro), and Dubuque, which is Blum’s home base.

UPDATE: Added below Finkenauer’s statement after Blum voted for the American Health Care Act on May 4.

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Young a no, Blum nowhere as House leaders shelve new health care vote

U.S. House Republican leaders called off plans to vote today on a new proposal to replace the 2010 health care reform law. Representative David Young (IA-03) was among at least 21 Republicans who had indicated they don’t support the MacArthur amendment to the American Health Care Act.

At this writing, Young has not released a statement, and his communications staff have not responded to my inquiries. His social media feeds are full of the usual photos of constituents or groups who stopped by his Washington office this week. But on Thursday, other staffers told various constituent callers (including me) that Young’s “position has not changed” since he came out against the Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act in March. The Hill included him on their “whip count” of no votes, based on Young’s comments to Independent Journal Review reporter Haley Byrd: “Moderate GOP member David Young says he’s still a no on AHCA and tells me he *somehow* hasn’t read the MacArthur amendment yet. (Hmm. Okay.)”

Representative Rod Blum (IA-01) hasn’t commented publicly on the latest proposal, which was drafted to appease members of the House Freedom Caucus to which he belongs. I haven’t heard back from his communications staff, and numerous constituents who called his offices were told he has no position, either because nothing is on the House floor yet or because the bill is only in “draft” form. Notably, Blum didn’t wait for a floor vote to announce his opposition to the American Health Care Act last month. At that time, he said any health care reform bill needs “to drive down actual costs” and “help people who need the help.”

Groups including the AARP, the March of Dimes, American Hospital Association, and American Medical Association oppose the MacArthur amendment, under which states could decide not to force insurers to cover “essential health benefits.” The policy would also lead to much higher insurance premiums for older people and those with pre-existing conditions. The new Republican proposal envisions a return to state-based high-risk pools, which “failed consumers in the past.” Iowa was among 35 states that established high-risk pools before Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. Karen Pollitz of the Kaiser Foundation explained the shortcomings well here.

I will update this post as needed if Blum or Young comment further on GOP health care reform alternatives. The third Iowa Republican in the U.S. House, Representative Steve King (IA-04), came around to supporting the American Health Care Act in March.

UPDATE: Iowans living in the first district continue to report being told that Blum’s staff told them he doesn’t have a position on the bill. Blum has taken a stand on countless other policies that never came up for a vote on the House floor. Just this week, he expressed support for President Trump’s “tax plan,” which is nothing like fleshed-out legislation.

I’ve added below a news release from State Representative Abby Finkenauer, who is likely to make her campaign against Blum official soon.

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Steve Sodders rules out running for Congress in IA-01

Former State Senator Steve Sodders will not run for Congress in Iowa’s first district next year, he told Bleeding Heartland this morning.

I’m taking my hat out of the congressional race, after long consideration and discussions with family and friends, it would be very difficult for me to run for higher office at this time due to my work schedule at the Marshall County Sheriff office. I do plan on staying in politics and will likely run for another office in the future. I can retire in January of 2019 from law enforcement after 29 years.

Sodders, a longtime deputy sheriff, represented Marshall and Tama counties in the Iowa Senate for two terms before losing his re-election bid to Jeff Edler last year. Republicans spent heavily in that race, as did some conservative interest groups. Many Democrats would support Sodders in a 2020 rematch with Edler. Another possibility would be a campaign for Marshall County supervisor. Two of the three current supervisors (Bill Patten and Dave Thompson) are up for re-election in 2018.

To my knowledge, Courtney Rowe is the only declared Democratic challenger to two-term Representative Rod Blum in IA-01. Bleeding Heartland posted more information about the Cedar Rapids-based engineer here. Her campaign has a Facebook page.

State Representative Abby Finkenauer of Dubuque is likely to join the Congressional field soon, having filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission and spoken recently at several Democratic events around the district. Click here for background on Finkenauer and to hear what her stump speech might sound like if she runs against Blum. Her campaign website is here.

State Senator Jeff Danielson of Waterloo and Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson have previously said they are thinking about running for Congress next year.

Blum is a top 2018 target for Iowa and U.S. House Democrats. The 20 counties in IA-01 contain 164,113 active registered Democrats, 144,584 Republicans, and 190,664 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. The largest-population counties are Linn (the Cedar Rapids metro area), Black Hawk (Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro), and Dubuque, which is Blum’s home base.

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