Familiar themes emerge in second District 2 debate

Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Democrat Rita Hart held their second debate of the election season Thursday night. The two candidates pointed fingers over health care legislation and discussed the possibility of a mask mandate.

Democratic+nominee+Rita+Hart+%28left%29+and+Republican+nominee+Mariannette+Miller-Meeks+%28right%29+strive+for+Iowa%E2%80%99s+Second+Congressional+District+seat+during+their+Oct.+8%2C+debate.+%28Ayrton+Breckenridge%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29

Ayrton Breckenridge

Democratic nominee Rita Hart (left) and Republican nominee Mariannette Miller-Meeks (right) strive for Iowa’s Second Congressional District seat during their Oct. 8, debate. (Ayrton Breckenridge/The Daily Iowan)

Lauren White, Politics Reporter


Democrat Rita Hart and Republican state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks pointed fingers over health care and the coronavirus pandemic in a debate Thursday night.

The candidates for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District accused each other of not wanting to protect Iowans’ access to health care, with Miller-Meeks pointing to a bill Hart voted for in the state Senate in 2018.

Hart sided with Republican legislators to pass a bill that provided farmers health care through a partnership between the state and established Iowa organizations, like the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and Wellmark. Only members of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation were eligible for the health-care plan offered in the bill.

“The fact of the matter is that there is only one person on this stage today that has voted to deny coverage for preexisting conditions, and that’s Rita Hart,” Miller-Meeks said.

The Hart campaign released a statement after the debate saying Hart did not think the bill was ideal, but it was “the only option available in a Republican legislature and one that was important to her constituents.”

The statement also said the bill did not take coverage away from Iowans, but provided a short-term solution for those who didn’t qualify for Affordable Care Act subsidies.

Hart said she wants to improve upon the Affordable Care Act and said Miller-Meeks always encouraged the repeal of the ACA.

Miller-Meeks has been supportive of repealing the ACA in the past, but during the debate, she said she wants reform for the program rather than repeal it.

RELATED: Candidates for Iowa House District 2 face off in first debate

On the heels of President Trump’s announcement to halt discussions for a second coronavirus aid package until after the election, both candidates said the hiatus is disappointing knowing so many Americans are still in need of support during the ongoing pandemic.

“The pandemic is still here and we are still fighting, just as many people are still suffering. If Iowans can’t pay bills, can’t pay rent, landowners will have to evict and we will have an increase in our homeless population,” Hart said.

Miller-Meeks said further COVID-19 aid would be a recovery or repair rather than a stimulus like the first package was. She said the next relief bill should include additional unemployment benefits, more small business loans, but also allow the economy to continue to reopen.

While she is disappointed, she said, Iowa taxpayers shouldn’t be made to bail out larger states for their poor fiscal practices.

“We had great conservative fiscal practices in Iowa over the past three years and that has allowed our state to weather the pandemic better than most other states,” Miller-Meeks said.

Iowa closed fiscal 2020 with a $305 million budget surplus, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced in September.

If a vaccine for the virus becomes available and proves itself safe, both candidates said they would take the vaccine. However, Hart said she would want to make it mandatory while Miller-Meeks would not.

When asked if the candidates support a mask mandate following the president’s case of COVID-19, Miller-Meeks said a mandate would be difficult to regulate and she would rather encourage Iowans to do what is responsible voluntarily.

Miller-Meeks added that it’s unfortunate the president contracted COVID-19, but shutting down the country is not a solution to the pandemic because a high number of people would be infected either way, she said.

Hart said the economy will continue to struggle until the infection rate lowers and that as leaders, they should be an example of what Americans should be doing to protect themselves and others during the pandemic.

“This is a common problem among people of both parties and we lost an opportunity to bring people together, follow the science, and lower the infection rate,” Hart said.

After the debate, Hart campaign manager Zach Meunier issued a statement, saying Hart showcased a bipartisan approach with a commitment to listening to all Iowans.

“The contrast in this race is clear, Rita Hart is committed to working with anyone to create good paying jobs, support Iowa’s rural economy and protect our health care, while Mariannette Miller-Meeks supports doing-away with the Affordable Care Act, ending the Medicare guarantee, and a failed response to COVID-19,” Meunier said.

Miller-Meeks’ campaign did not release a statement.

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