Miller-Meeks considered dropping out of IA-02 race (updated)

Mariannette Miller-Meeks considered withdrawing from her rematch against Representative Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s second Congressional district this summer, the Republican candidate told the Des Moines Register’s editorial board yesterday. Miller-Meeks stepped down from her ophthalmology practice in early 2009 to focus on running for Congress again, so when her husband lost his job this July, her family had no income.

Miller-Meeks said she told no one about her dilemma, not even Republican Party officials. […]

The family financial crisis influenced her political perspectives, she said. It sharpened her beliefs that the government should stay out of debt and that steps must be taken to make health insurance more affordable.

Since stepping down from her medical practice, Miller-Meeks had had health insurance coverage through her husband’s job. He has a new job now, but Miller-Meeks told the Register’s staff that she has chosen not to be on his insurance plan.

“I’m a very healthy person, and what I’ve done is look at my family history and determine what my level of risk is,” she said. “Am I saying it’s a smart thing to do? No. I think we need to make health insurance more affordable.”

The country needs to get to a point where a family of four can pay $2,000 a year for a plan that covers immunizations, preventative medicine and catastrophic needs, Miller-Meeks said. She also supports a nationwide risk pool and allowing health insurance purchasing across state lines, she said.

If elected, she would like to choose a federal plan that covers only catastrophic illness or injury, she said.

It must have been a very stressful summer for the Miller-Meeks family. While I’m sorry to hear about her situation, I wouldn’t recommend going without health insurance based on a good medical history. A flukey infection can incur tens of thousands of dollars in health care costs, to say nothing of a cancer diagnosis or some chronic illness. I also wouldn’t advise a friend to choose a limited catastrophic plan like the one Miller-Meeks prefers for herself and many others. There’s a reason such policies are commonly known as “junk insurance.” Letting people buy insurance across state lines sounds good in theory, until you consider how the race to the bottom gutted regulations for credit card issuers.

Miller-Meeks is a hard worker and clearly committed to seeing this race through, but some Republicans may be upset to learn that she was on the verge of quitting for the second election in a row. A wingnut faction in the Iowa GOP already distrusts Miller-Meeks for allegedly being too moderate.

Miller-Meeks has been campaigning energetically around the second district with a generic Republican message. She calls Loebsack names like “Do-nothing Dave” and Pelosi’s puppet, rails against the health insurance reform law and the 2009 federal stimulus:

Stimulus funding has failed to create jobs, and it probably would have worked better to funnel money directly to the American people, she said.

The stimulus bill created and saved millions of jobs according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. Without it the economy would have continued to decline steeply. Evidence is mounting that the stimulus wasn’t big enough, the opposite of Miller-Meeks’ claim. Tax cuts made up about one-third of the stimulus bill’s costs, even though government spending provides more “bang for the buck” than tax cuts do. The stimulus provisions with the biggest “bang for the buck” did give money directly to Americans in the form of extended unemployment benefits and food stamps. Other stimulus spending that kept teachers and public safety workers on the job helped ordinary Americans as well.

Few analysts expect the IA-02 race to be competitive this year, because the district has a strong Democratic lean, and Loebsack defeated Miller-Meeks by 57 percent to 39 percent in 2008. (A Green Party candidate who isn’t running this year picked up 3 percent last cycle.) Loebsack also has a large cash on hand advantage over his challenger. Then again, the overall political environment favors Republicans, and pockets of the second district have high unemployment.

I do agree with Miller-Meeks on one point: Loebsack should debate her. Barbara Grassley advised Miller-Meeks to schedule a debate and show up to face an empty chair if necessary (funny advice in light of Senator Chuck Grassley’s refusal to debate Roxanne Conlin). But I hope it doesn’t come to such theatrics. Miller-Meeks deserves a chance to debate the incumbent, just as fifth district candidate Matt Campbell deserves a debate against incumbent Steve “10 Worst” King.

Any comments about the IA-02 campaign are welcome in this thread.

CORRECTION: I didn’t realize that the candidates had agreed to three debates already: an AARP forum in Coralville on September 13, a joint Iowa Public Television appearance on September 24 and a debate hosted by KCRG in Cedar Rapids on October 12.

UPDATE: Miller-Meeks thinks staggered enrollment in Medicare is the way to make the program solvent. But people approaching retirement age are among those most likely to have pre-existing conditions and have sky-high private insurance costs. How is that going to work?

SEPTEMBER 24 UPDATE: Miller-Meeks said on Iowa Public TV’s Iowa Press program that she has catastrophic health insurance coverage.

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