IOWA CITY — The candidates seeking to represent Iowa’s 2nd District in Congress locked horns Thursday night over foreign policy, health care and who best could function in what they both viewed as a dysfunctional Congress.
U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City, said he has worked effectively across the aisle for bipartisan solutions but has been thwarted by being in the minority the past two of his four terms in the U.S. House.
His Republican challenger, Ottumwa ophthalmologist Mariannette Miller-Meeks, told a crowd at a televised debate at City High School that Loebsack has been part of the problem as the least effective member of Iowa’s congressional delegation who moves in “lock step” with President Barack Obama.
“He’s a puppet of this administration and a puppet of Nancy Pelosi,” Miller-Meeks said during the hourlong event broadcast live on Iowa Public Television. “He does what they want him to do. His voting record shows that. He is in fact part of the problem in a dysfunctional Washington, D.C.”
Miller-Meeks, who lost to Loebsack in 2008 and 2010, said the administration lacks a coherent foreign policy strategy and it has created mounting problems in Iraq, Ukraine and the entire Middle East.
Loebsack said he was concerned about the latest aggressive action in Ukraine by Russia and he was eager to see what plans Obama has for enlisting the help of NATO allies in Europe in response. He also hoped House Speaker John Boehner would call representatives back to Washington to consider growing concerns in the Middle East.
“I don’t believe that boots on ground, at least at this point certainly from what I’ve seen, that’s not something where we ought to go at this point,” Loebsack said of the situation in Iraq. “I think we should hold open all the options and possibilities. But the American people are war-weary.”
Miller-Meeks said it should have been evident that the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State was a growing threat and she questioned an Obama administration decision not to negotiate a status of forces agreement that would have provided for “residual troops” to maintain stability during the transition to an emerging government in Iraq.
“I think it was not a wise decision on the part of our government to not have negotiated a strategy,” she said.
Loebsack supported the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2012 and as far as knowledge of new threats in the region, he said, “for the record, Congress is given the information that the administration chooses to give it, that’s the bottom line.”
The four-term incumbent said he has tried to “be part of the solution” by working to restore money for the Meals on Wheels program for seniors, fund National Guard readiness, foster federal disaster aid in the wake of the 2008 flood and was one of the first Democrats to support a balanced budget amendment.
Miller-Meeks pointed to her time as director of the state Department of Public Health under Gov. Terry Branstad, saying she was part of an administration that got things done. By contrast, she told Loebsack “there’s not a bill that’s got your name on it that’s been introduced and passed.”
Both candidates said they supported federal decriminalization efforts that would allow medical uses of marijuana and they favored allowing veterans to seek private sector health care along with benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.