Braley, Ernst clash in Iowa Senate debate
© YouTube/Greg Nash

Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce BraleyTrump: Ernst wanted 'more seasoning' before entertaining VP offer Criminal sentencing bill tests McConnell-Grassley relationship Trump's VP list shrinks MORE (D-Iowa) spent a large portion of the first Iowa Senate debate Sunday night defending his record on veterans affairs, healthcare and energy.

Republican Joni Ernst, an Iowa state senator, also had to explain her positions on social issues, minimum wage and Social Security attacks from Braley in a heated debate the evening after an Iowa poll showed the Republican up by 6 points. 

Ernst came prepared to talk about many of the major criticisms she and her allies have leveled at Braley, including his support of ObamaCare, which Ernst said is costly and harmful.

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“Every Iowan deserves access to affordable healthcare. But ObamaCare is not the answer in this case,” Ernst said at the Sunday debate hosted by the Des Moines Register and KCCI-TV.

“We are seeing it cost jobs,” she said, pointing to recent layoffs of insurance workers and physicians. “It’s also an increased tax on Iowans and Americans, $1.2 trillion.”

Braley admitted that ObamaCare, formally the Affordable Care Act, was not perfect as passed. But he used the topic as an opportunity to show that he can work on solutions in a bipartisan way.

“I think that the Affordable Care Act needs to be fixed and improved,” he said. “Sen. Ernst would repeal it and continue to obstruct efforts to try to improve it.” 

Braley, a member of the Veterans Affairs' Committee, also found himself defending his dedication to veterans.

Ernst charged that Braley missed 75 percent of the hearings with the panel.

“I’ve been there for veterans,” he said. “I’ve made 97 percent of the votes at the VA hearing to stand up for veterans and I fight for them every day.”

He also mentioned work he did to help specific groups of veterans get access to certain benefits.

Ernst, meanwhile, defended herself on issues such as the minimum wage. She said she does not believe there should be a federal minimum wage, and Braley charged that Ernst did not want to raise Iowa’s wages.

“If 300,000 Iowans would get a pay raise simply by raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, that tells me that a lot of Iowans are missing out on this booming economy that Sen. Ernst is talking about,” Braley said.

Instead of responding directly, Ernst said her opponent's proposal to raise the minimum wage would not improve the economy. She said her state Senate record shows the right way to boost the economy.

Braley also attacked Ernst for her refusal to denounce proposals to privatize Social Security, her endorsement of Iowa legislation that he said would ban all abortions and some contraception and her support from the billionaire Koch brothers, along with her opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Sen. Ernst wants to abolish the EPA and the Clean Water Act. And I think that’s a misguided decision,” he said.

When Ernst said she was not sure that humans have caused climate change, Braley blasted her.

“If you don’t accept that this is a real problem, which it sounds like Sen. Ernst doesn’t ... many Iowa companies believe it strongly, and believe that if we don’t do something, it will hurt our economy,” he said.

“Because of these great policies that we have put into place, the Iowa economy is booming and we’ve been able to create 150,000 new, good-paying jobs here in the state of Iowa,” she said.

Braley put a special emphasis on bipartisan work, repeatedly complimenting Sen. Chuck Grassley (R), Iowa’s senior senator.

Braley also used the debate as an opportunity to show that he has worked with Republicans such as Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. The two worked together to expand Medicaid, giving more than 80,000 people health coverage who didn’t have it before. 

Along with his work with Branstad, Braley highlighted the bipartisanship of some of the policies he championed in Congress, like immigration reform.

“This is another great example where Tea Party obstructionism is keeping us from getting this problem solved,” he said of the Senate’s attempt at immigration reform, on which the House never voted. “So senator, will you join John McCain and Marco Rubio and call on Speaker Boehner to bring this immigration bill to the floor of the House so we can pass it?”

The Des Moines Register poll released Saturday night showed Ernst pulling ahead in the race, 44 percent to 38 percent; the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee countered by releasing its own internal polling showing the race was tied. 

—This report was updated at 9:13 p.m.