October 13, 2018
By Editorial Board
When Republicans achieved the trifecta in 2016, winning the presidency as well as holding the House and Senate, it seemed the country was poised to move beyond the GOP-engineered partisan gridlock that had characterized much of the previous six years.
Americans had reason to expect action from Congress, for better or worse, on a variety of issues ranging from health care and immigration to reducing government overspending.
Not so much, as it turned out. The Republican majority in Congress tried and failed to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without offering a plan of their own that a majority of their own members — let alone a majority of the American people — could support. Instead, they have allowed the system to become increasingly unstable, leading to a lack of competition and rising premiums.
Republicans in Congress have not only failed at comprehensive immigration reform, but their action allowed protection to expire on young, undocumented Americans brought here as children. They haven’t even fully funded President Trump’s border wall. They stood by as the administration tried to bar Muslims from certain countries from entering the United States. They looked the other way as the administration shocked and dismayed the nation by separating young children from their parents at the border, holding them in detention and losing track of some of the kids.
Republicans promised fiscal responsibility, yet they have punted on putting the nation back on sound financial footing. Their one major legislative success, the 2017 tax cut, is projected to add $1.9 trillion to the debt. This, after Republicans howled endlessly about the comparatively meager deficits created during the Obama administration. The Congressional Budget Office said in August that these tax cuts and spending increases would become “unsustainable” if extended. But the House GOP, including Iowa’s three Republican representatives, voted last month for another $3.8 trillion in tax cuts.
The Republican majority has twiddled its thumbs while President Trump started a trade war with China, imposing tariffs and provoking retaliation that is hurting Iowa farmers by threatening export markets. They have even allowed the Farm Bill to expire, leaving town without resolving differences.
Some have argued that this election should be a referendum on President Trump. We disagree. This is about Congress, which has abdicated much of its constitutional duty and has failed to provide a check and balance to the executive branch.
Not only has the party failed to act as a check on the president, key Republicans have been complicit in trying to obstruct and undermine the investigation of a foreign power’s interference in a U.S. election. And by their silence they have tacitly endorsed the president’s racism, misogyny, white nationalism, divisiveness and crudity.
In becoming the party of Trump, the Republicans have forsaken traditional conservatism and given voters no rational alternative to the Democrats. The party needs to be voted out of power and spend a few years becoming again the party of Lincoln, not the party of Trump.
The Register’s editorial board normally considers each congressional race individually before making endorsements. We interview the candidates, if possible, and review their backgrounds and public positions. We consider character and the candidate’s depth of understanding of issues. We have been known, at times, to endorse a candidate we disagree with on issues rather than one we doubt could follow through on promised change.
We went through the same process this year, although no Republican incumbents chose to meet with us. Some of the challengers are more prepared than others. We were especially impressed by Republican Christopher Peters’ growth as a second-time challenger to Rep. Dave Loebsack in the 2nd District.
But the stakes are too high this year to worry about whether some candidates have sufficiently detailed agendas or know enough about how some parts of the government work. Nothing short of a change in party leadership in Congress will move this country forward. That’s why we’re recommending that Iowa voters send home Reps. Rod Blum, David Young and Steve King and return Rep. Dave Loebsack to the House.
1st District: Finkenauer
Democrat Abby Finkenauer, who is challenging Blum, is a 29-year-old state representative from Dubuque. She’s run a highly competitive race against Blum, the two-term incumbent, and has demonstrated a solid grasp of issues facing the district. If Finkenauer wins, she’ll be one of the youngest women ever elected to Congress.
She noted during her interview with us that she is still trying to pay off about $20,000 in college loans. She’s incredulous that Congress has not made it possible for people like her to at least refinance their student debt.
“When I think about why maybe it hasn’t gotten done, it could be because there’s not a lot of people, again, sitting around the table making these decisions that are paying off student loans, who have any idea what that’s like. … I think it’s important that we have that viewpoint in D.C.”
So do we. It’s just one of the reasons we endorse Finkenauer.
Blum has joined in some successes for the 1st District, including bipartisan work to secure federal money for a much-needed flood wall in Cedar Rapids. But he also joined the House Freedom Caucus, which has been responsible for walling up action on many issues. Iowa doesn’t need more obstruction in Congress.
2nd District: Loebsack
Democratic incumbent Dave Loebsack is seeking a seventh term in Congress. He sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House, where he’s been working to expand access to rural broadband as a vital component to economic development.
Loebsack, who grew up poor in Sioux City and owes some of his success to federal assistance and Social Security survivor benefits to his family at the time, has been a consistent voice for low- and middle-income Iowans. He has also worked hard to help people in Cedar Rapids, which is no longer in his district, recover from the 2008 floods. He deserves re-election.
His Republican opponent, Peters, is an engaging candidate. The Coralville surgeon offers market-driven solutions for health care, some of which would be worth considering to help reduce health-care costs, even though we disagree with his position that the Affordable Care Act should be replaced. In another year, against a different opponent, he might get our support. But not this time.
3rd District: Axne
Of all of the Republican incumbents seeking re-election, we’ve been most disappointed in Young. The Register endorsed him in 2014 as a “center-right” Republican who had expressed pragmatism and a willingness to compromise to get things done.
Instead, what he has compromised is his credibility with voters last year by supporting a repeal of the Affordable Care Act that included no plan for replacement, despite his stated interest in protecting patients with pre-existing conditions.
His Democratic opponent, Cindy Axne, is running a competitive race against Young. We endorsed her in the Democratic primary based largely on her state government experience in strategic planning, operations improvement and performance oversight. While she often lacks details about how to implement her proposals, she offers a get-it-done pragmatism that we wish Young had displayed more often. We endorse her, hoping again for change.
4th District: Scholten
This one’s a no-brainer for any Iowan who has cringed at eight-term incumbent King’s increasing obsession with being a cultural provocateur. In his almost 16 years in Congress, King has passed exactly one bill as primary sponsor, redesignating a post office. He won’t debate his opponent and rarely holds public town halls. Instead, he spends his time meeting with fascist leaders in Europe and retweeting neo-Nazis.
His Democratic challenger, J.D. Scholten, a 38-year-old former professional baseball player from Sioux City, is a breath of fresh air. He’s focused entirely on working for the 4th District, particularly rural communities that are struggling with the effects of low commodity prices, Trump’s trade war and workforce shortages as a result of the immigration crackdown. His party label doesn’t match that of many of his voters, but he can relate to people across the political spectrum.
We particularly like Scholten’s willingness to vote for new leadership of his caucus in the interest of easing partisan gridlock. We endorse him not just as an antidote for King’s virulent xenophobia but as a promising new leader.