Candidates running for Iowa's 2nd Congressional District found some common ground, but continued to spar over health care.
Democrat Rita Hart and Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks met Thursday in Davenport for a debate hosted by the Quad-City Times and KWQC TV6.
The pair are running to replace Rep. Dave Loebsack, who is not seeking re-election.
The district covers Scott, Muscatine and Louisa counties and most of the southeastern part of the state. It is one of 30 House districts President Donald J. Trump won in 2016 that is represented by a Democrat in 2020.
Both said there were committed to working across party lines and bringing people together to deliver for Iowans.
Hart, a former Democratic state senator from Wheatland, said if elected, the first bill she would sign would be House Democrats sweeping anti-corruption and pro-democracy reform bill known as HR 1.
"Because, people don’t have faith in the system," Hart said. "They don’t think their vote counts. They’re worried or they don’t believe that public officials are there for the right reasons. That they are there for their own personal gain rather than to be working for the people."
Hart said she supports legislation that would ban members of Congress from every becoming lobbyists, as well as banning members from holding individual stocks, and supports legislation that aims to end gerrymandering and provides for campaign finance reform.
"We’ve got to get the money out of politics," Hart said.
Miller-Meeks, an Ottumwa ophthalmologist and former director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said she is running to provide "health care that is affordable, that's accessible, that's portable, but still allows you to have choice."
Hart, though again, criticized Miller-Meeks for her past support of repealing the Affordable Care Act, the threatened Obama-era health care law that has been thrust into the spotlight with the pending confirmation of President Donald Trump's nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Democrats fear Barrett's confirmation to a majority-conservative court will overturn the law without a legislative solution, endangering health care for millions of Americans during a global health pandemic.
"To me, that is just the wrong approach," Hart said. "We ought to be taking what we have now and improving it. I definitely agree that we have got to work on bringing down the price of premiums, of co-pays, of deductibles. We've got to work on lowering our prescription drug prices."
Miller-Meeks, the former director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, insisted she has always supported protections for pre-existing conditions and backs efforts by House Republicans to put forth legislation that would continue to provide such protections and coverage for Americans, should the law be overturned by the court.
"Both parties should be coming together, planning ahead and trying to determine what they can do should the Affordable Care Act be struck down," Miller-Meeks said. "Health care needs to be affordable. It needs to be accessible. And it needs to be able to give us choice. I have long argued for this, and the ACA failed us in that regard."
While Republicans have long said their goal is to repeal and replace the ACA, years have gone by "that Republicans could have put a plan forward," Hart said.
"They have not done it," she said. "That just makes me think that it really doesn't exist."
Miller-Meeks, meanwhile, criticized Hart for her vote in the Iowa Legislature in support of a 2018 bill that allowed organizations in the state to create health care plans that could avoid federal requirements like the one in the Affordable Care Act that says insurance companies cannot reject individuals with preexisting conditions.
"There's only one person on this stage who has voted to deny coverage to pre-existing conditions, and that's Rita Hart," Miller-Meeks said.
Hart said she crossed part lines to vote for a bill supported largely by Iowa Republicans that created health plans to help Iowans who cannot afford or were not eligible for federal subsidies to purchase plans on the health exchange.
"Every single Republican under the dome voted for it, and it was the best thing for my constituents," Hart said.
When it comes to the pandemic, both agreed that Congress needs to act quickly on a bipartisan solution to provide another wave of coronavirus relief, including additional unemployment benefits. And both recognize the need for ramped up testing in the country.
On abortion, when asked should Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed a women's right to abortion, be overturned by a conservative majority U.S. Supreme Court, Hart, a farmer and 20-year teacher, said "we have got to make sure that women have a right to privacy and that they have a right to reproductive health care."
Miller-Meeks did not say whether she favors Congress stepping in to avoid a patchwork of abortion laws across the country.
"Access to health care is an extremely important issue to me," she said. "It’s why as a state senator, I put forth and passed a bill through the state senate to have oral contraception over the county for women over age 18 so we can continue to provide women with oral contraceptive to prevent pregnancy."
NOTE: Debate begins at 6:45 p.m.
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