This debate was held at Simpson College.
KEVIN COONEY (MODERATOR): To begin the debate, each candidate will get 90 seconds for opening remarks. A coin toss before the debate determined that Mr. Braley will give the first opening remarks.
BRUCE BRALEY: Kevin, thank you and Kathie for moderating tonight’s debate. I want to thank the Des Moines Register and KCCI and Simpson College for hosting us. I want to thank the viewing audience here at Simpson and those of you watching on television. Thank you, Senator Ernst. I’m Bruce Braley. I grew up in a working class home in a small farm town called Brooklyn. My mom is a schoolteacher and my dad ran a grain elevator and sold insurance before he died in 1981. I grew up working for the Des Moines Register. I got my first job in 3rd grade, and I worked a lot of different jobs to pay my way through college and law school. I met my wife at an Eagle’s concert in Ames, and we have been married for over 30 years. We have three wonderful children we raised in Waterloo, and we’re blessed that they are all still living in Iowa. I’m running for the Senate because I’m going to stand up for Iowans, which is what I’ve been doing for 30 years. I’ll work with anyone who has a good idea that is good for Iowa. I am a bridge builder not a bridge burner. This election is about a clear choice between moving Iowa forward or following a radical Tea Party agenda that is going to take us backwards. On issue after issue, Senator Ernst has stood with the Koch Brothers and their extreme agenda that is wrong for Iowa. From repealing the federal minimum wage to privatizing Social Security to opposing the farm bill and the renewable fuel standard. I’m here tonight to listen, learn, to share my views, and to ask for your vote. Thank you.
COONEY: Thank you, Mr. Braley.
Joni ERNST: Good evening. I would like to thank our hosts tonight, KCCI, the Des Moines Register, Simpson College, and Congressman Braley for joining me on the stage tonight. I am Joni Ernst. I am a mother. I am a soldier. I am someone who cares deeply about the nation that we are leaving our children. I believe Washington is taking our country in the wrong direction. For the past eight years, Congressman Braley has been there voting with Nancy Pelosi, higher taxes, bigger government, the Wall Street bailout, Obamacare. This is his Washington record. He can’t defend it so he is running the most negative campaign that Iowans have ever seen. Washington has failed, but I believe in the Iowa way because I believe that Iowans know what is best for Iowa more than politicians in Washington DC. This matters to me because our working class families deserve better. When Washington is picking those winners and losers it’s almost always our Iowa middle class families that lose. I will fight hard to protect Social Security and Medicare for seniors, like my mom and dad, because our Greatest Generation has worked so hard for the American Dream, for our families, and as your next United States senator I will fight Washington to make sure more Americans can achieve the American Dream.
COONEY: Candidates, thank you very much for your opening remarks. Now we are going to move on to the questions. In this particular section, each candidate will have 75 seconds, 1 minute and 15 seconds, to answer questions that come from the moderators. There will be a chance for rebuttal if needed. Ms. Ernst receives the first question. Kathie.
KATHIE OBRADOVICH (MODERATOR): Thank you, Kevin. We’re going to start with the topic of some of the negative claims that have been raised in some of those TV ads that you just mentioned and by the campaigns. The latest Des Moines Register Iowa poll asked voters if various criticisms against the two of you were a big problem, a little problem, or not a problem at all. Ms. Ernst, in this latest poll, 56% of likely voters say it is a problem that you have discussed privatizing Social Security as an option to ensure its solvency. What would you like to say to those voters?
ERNST: I would say to those voters just as I said in my opening, Kathie, that I will fight for to protect Social Security and Medicare for our seniors. My folks really rely on those programs also. Those are sacred promises that have been made to those that are receiving those benefits. We have to honor those promises. Anyone that is on retirement, on Social Security, Medicare and those that are nearing retirement, we have to keep those benefits. Again, that promise has been made, but we have to acknowledge that there is a problem with Social Security and Medicare. Within 20 years the system will be broke. We have to address those problems. We need to look at many options out there. I haven’t endorsed one option over another, but we need to come together in a bipartisan manner to solve these issues. Congressman Braley has been there for eight years, and yet we haven’t seen any resolution to this issue. Every two years it comes up as a campaign talking point and yet we’re no further down the line. We need to protect our seniors with Social Security and Medicare.
OBRADOVICH: Thank you. Mr. Braley, in our Register poll, 56% of likely voters say it is a problem that you’ve missed a large percentage of the congressional committee hearings on Veterans’ Affairs. What is your response?
BRALEY: Well, the ads are misleading. If people want to know my true record on standing up for veterans they can go to my website and look at Braley Truth Team where it lays out all of the things that I’ve done for veterans in eight years because one of the things that I’ve done is I have helped members of the Iowa National Guard coming back from Iraq who were denied benefits that they had earned for the GI Bill for education assistance and for hardship pay. I also helped a young man in Dubuque who was a wounded warrior who was not able to stay in his home and had applied for a benefit and was denied. I helped him get that then introduced a bill in his name so that other wounded warriors can stay in their homes. The Andrew Connolly Veterans Housing Act. I’ve also helped over 400 Iowa veterans with disability claims and I’ve helped women in the military, female veterans, get more protection when they are the victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse. If you look at my record you’ll see that this is very personal to me. My father was a World War II combat veteran who served on Iwo Jima and brought the wounds from that war home with him. That is why the truth is that I have been there for veterans. I’ve made 97% of the votes at the VA hearing to stand up for veterans, and I fight for them every day.
COONEY: All right, if it’s alright we’ll move on to another question. Social Security, it was just mentioned. Pretty much everyone seems to agree that in about 20 years, 2033, or so Social Security is no longer going to be able to pay its benefits. What can you say tonight that will protect Social Security not only for those who are seniors or close to becoming eligible but what about the people in their 30s or their 40s or 50s who will need it after 2033 and beyond? While we’re talking about seniors, what about some of the people in this audience here who are seniors in college? Maybe 20-somethings. Mr. Braley.
BRALEY: Social Security is based on a solemn promise that if you work hard and you pay into it, it’s going to be there for you when you need it. That is why I have a four-point plan to strengthen Social Security and it includes raising the minimum wage giving 300,000 Iowans a pay raise, and that would pump billions of dollars into the Social Security Trust fund every year. We also need to expand our economy by investing in infrastructure and our manufacturing base and get people off of unemployment and paying into Social Security which will be another great thing. But let me make this perfectly clear, privatizing Social Security is not an option for me. Senator Ernst has said that it is an option for her. Privatizing isn’t protecting Social Security and it’s not protecting Iowans. It is not a retirement plan for Iowans, it’s a retirement plan for Wall Street investment bankers.
COONEY: Ms. Ernst, you used the term ‘sacred promise’ and you’ve repeatedly said that in regards to Social Security you want to protect our seniors, but what about the 20-somethings and the 30-somethings and the 40-somethings?
ERNST: Well, yes, Kevin, you are absolutely correct that it is a sacred promise that we have made. One thing that I have stated when it comes to Social Security is that we shouldn’t raise the retirement age. People work very hard throughout their lifetimes and put into the Social Security fund. They expect to have those dollars there for when they are retiring. For our younger workers, we need to make sure that they know they will be retiring at a certain age, but we have to preserve and protect it. What Congressman Braley is proposing by raising the minimum wage is not an answer. That is less than 1% of our annual Social Security spending so it’s not shoring up the system in the long term. We have to come up with other options to put on the table but again making sure that we are working in a bipartisan manner so that these young people, as they are getting out of college and working throughout their lives, know that Social Security will be there for them.
COONEY: Is there a rebuttal?
BRALEY: Can I respond to that? I have made it very clear that retirement age is not an option not only because of the fact that it imposes a burden on people like nurses and construction workers who are on their feet all day working hard their entire lives but because it’s not fair to put the burden of continuing these programs on those workers. Not only have I said that, I’ve voted that way. In fact, in the last four years I have voted four times not to raise the retirement age on Social Security and Medicare.
COONEY: Thank you, Mr. Braley.
ERNST: And again, I would say that raising the minimum wage is not the answer to shoring up the system. We need to look overall at our economy in the United States. What we’ve done here in Iowa by lowering taxes on hard working Iowans by balancing our budget, by rolling back job killing rules and regulations, we have a booming, growing economy with up to 150,000 new jobs. Those are workers, good paying jobs, those are workers that will contribute to our Social Security system.
COONEY: Thank you candidates. Let’s move on.
OBRADOVICH: Turning to foreign policy, Ms. Ernst. What do you think is the greatest foreign threat facing the United States today and what should the United States do about it?
ERNST: There are a number of growing threats throughout this world, and right now very pressing is the threat of ISIL. They are terrorists, they are extreme terrorists, and they must be stopped. I’m someone who has served in the military for over 22 years. I am a combat veteran. My boots have been on that ground in Iraq so I will stand with our troops in making sure that we think through our actions carefully. I do have a number of criteria put in place whenever I would consider military action. The first is that we know that there is a credible threat, we have actionable intelligence that can be acted on. Second is do we have a clearly defined mission and do we have the resources necessary to support that mission? Third is, once that mission has been accomplished, what is the withdrawal plan to bring our men and women home and are we going to support them when we bring them home? Those men and women and their families. Congressman Braley, when it comes to threats abroad and foreign policy, when we were engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, he voted twice to defund our troops while they were engaged in combat.
OBRADOVICH: Mr. Braley, do you agree that ISIL is the greatest foreign threat or is there another one facing the United States? And again, what would you do?
BRALEY: First, let me respond that that last point. Iowans know that I made it very clear in those votes that I was voting to make sure that we were ending our decade-long involvement in Iraq not to penalize the men and women serving our country so bravely. I made that statement on the floor because it’s very, very important to me. I agree with Senator Ernst that the rise of terrorism is the greatest threat that we face as a country. I also agree with those four criteria that she laid out, but there is another very important criteria that General Colin Powell also made as part of that risk assessment and that is making sure that the American people understand that importance and are supportive of why we are sending our brave men and women off to war. I recently had the opportunity to vote to give the President limited authority to begin strikes against terrorists in Iraq and Syria. ISIS is a threat that must be stopped, and anytime American citizens are attacked by a terrorist group they need to be brought to justice or to the grave. That is what’s happening and that’s what we will continue to do.
OBRADOVICH: Ms. Ernst, just to follow up. Would you have voted, as Congressman Braley did, to allow that attack to go forward and what criteria would you put in place to decide whether to continue that beyond the limit that was in that legislation?
ERNST: Yes, I would have supported that vote also. The criteria that I have laid out previously is what I would use as we move through this process to determine if further action is needed. I would use those same criteria. Americans are resilient, and we will support our men and women in uniform. Unfortunately, Congressman Braley, when he had the opportunity as a member of the Veterans’ Affairs committee was not present over 75% of those full congressional hearings when he could have done something to help those veterans.
OBRADOVICH: We’ll give you a few minutes to respond here – a few seconds to respond.
BRALEY: The day that the claimed ad is referring to, Senator, I was at the World War II Memorial greeting an honor flag from eastern Iowa. I actually attended a 90-minute Veterans’ Affairs hearing that same day. I went to a classified briefing because I care about what’s happening to our men and women overseas. Those are what you can learn if you go to my website and look at Braley Truth Team. You’ll learn the true story about what I’ve done to fight for veterans, and we need to make sure that every time we honor our veterans is in a way that is honoring their service.
COONEY: Candidates, thanks a lot. We’ll move onto another topic, one that I think we will probably want to hear from you about and that is affordable care. The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, it is the law of the land as you know right now. In recent days there have been some reports that show it has even reduced medical costs in some states that have expanded their Medicaid eligibility. So tell us what you like and dislike about Obamacare and specifically what can the government do, whether within that law or something else, to hold down health care costs. Mr. Braley.
BRALEY: Well, this is an issue where there is a clear difference between us. I think that the Affordable Care Act needs to be fixed and improved. Senator Ernst would repeal it and continue to obstruct efforts to try to improve it. I have made it very clear that there were problems with the rollout that needed to be fixed. I voted to allow people to continue to keep their policies during a period of time when we are making the transition, but there have been some significant positive things that have happened in Iowa and we can’t go back to where we were before. Over 80,000 Iowans were able to get access to health care because I worked with governor Branstad and the Iowa Legislature to expand access. Over 130,000 Iowans now have access to health care coverage that they didn’t have before. Seniors are seeing their prescription cost drop because we’re closing the donut hole. I have a nephew who was diagnosed with liver cancer. He would have not been able to get coverage because of his preexisting condition. Now his parents don’t have to worry about that. It has also eliminated lifetime caps. It has prevented discrimination from pricing for women in health care coverage. So we need to continue to fix what’s wrong and improve the Affordable Care Act, but we can’t go backwards.
COONEY: Ms. Ernst.
ERNST: Every Iowan deserves access to affordable health care, but Obamacare is not the answer in this case. What it has done here in Iowa is first, we are seeing it cost jobs. Blue Cross/Blue Shield laid off over 100 workers, 29 physicians were laid off from Mercy Hospital so layoffs continue. It’s also an increased tax on Iowans and Americans, $1.2 trillion. It’s taking our personal health care decisions out of our hands and placing them in the hands of nameless, faceless bureaucrats out in Washington DC. It has also cut $716 billion from Medicare that our seniors rely on. So I don’t agree. This is something we will continue to disagree on. I believe that we need to have patient-centered care. The way that we can do that is by allowing insurance agencies to sell products across state lines, allowing tax credits for those that privately purchase the insurance. There are a number a ways that we can provide good insurance.
COONEY: On follow up with Mr. Braley just in terms of what he said also. You said there are problems that need to be fixed and you talked about a lot of what’s right. What needs to be fixed? What’s broken with Obamacare?
BRALEY: One of the things we did was we addressed a problem, Kevin, that was creating hardships for small businesses and we eliminated that hardship by making it easier for them to deal with the recordkeeping responsibilities associated with the Affordable Care Act, but one of the things that Senator Ernst mentioned is something Iowans know is not true. Iowans didn’t receive a cut in Medicare benefits because of the Affordable Care Act. What we did was, we cut wasteful spending out of the system. There is a big difference. So the Cedar Rapids Gazette looked at that claim and declared that it was false because benefits to seniors have not changed. In fact, because of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare solvency has been extended for a significant number of years. Iowa now is 8th in terms of the lowest number of people who don’t have access to health insurance, and that is something that we should be proud of. That resulted because of a bipartisan effort with Governor Branstad working with Congress to get a waiver to expand access to health care.
COONEY: Ms. Ernst, I would imagine that you have something to say?
ERNST: Yes. When it comes to the Medicare cuts and Obamacare, the Congressman has stated that he read every page of that bill and that he wouldn’t change a thing with that bill. However, we do see that there are a number of changes that have been made or delays that you have supported, the President has supported, but when it comes to that $716 billion of Medicare cuts that is a number that comes from the Congressional Budget Office so to dispute those maybe you just need to walk down the hall and visit with them to see if that is accurate or not.
COONEY: All right, let’s move on.
OBRADOVICH: All right. Turning to strengthening the economy. There are two approaches that we hear the most often. One way primarily benefits businesses and high income Americans with the expectation that they will create more and better jobs. The other targets and benefits the middle income Americans who might then spend more and stimulate the economy. Which of these approaches, Ms. Ernst, do you think works better and what would you do to advance?
ERNST: Well, when it comes to the economy, I have my own way of addressing the economy which is exactly what we have done here in Iowa which the Iowa way, again, is working. That is utilizing those policies that I have implemented with Governor Terry Branstad, a good friend and supporter. The first is by lowering taxes on all hard working Iowans, and we have had the largest tax cut in Iowa history returning $4.4 billion dollars to Iowa taxpayers. We also have rolled back job-killing rules and regulations here in the state, and we have balanced our budget. Because of these great policies that we put into place, the Iowa economy is booming. We have been able to create 150,000 new, good-paying jobs here in the state of Iowa. Unemployment is down from over 6% four years ago to 4.5% here in Iowa, which means more of our neighbors and friends are going to work and providing for their families every day. If you look at the Congressman’s record, he is supporting failed policies, higher taxes, more job-killing rules and regulations, and national unemployment has gone up in the past eight years.
OBRADOVICH: Mr. Braley, same question to you. Which of those approaches do you think works best and what would you do to advance?
BRALEY: Well, I can tell you with absolute clarity that the most important job for Iowa’s next senator is to fight for Iowans working class families because if 300,000 Iowans would get a pay raise by simply increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, that tells me that a lot of Iowans are missing out on this booming economy that Senator Ernst is talking about. She not only wants to not support raising the minimum wage, she wants to repeal the federal minimum wage and she doesn’t want to raise the state minimum wage. That means that these Iowans are going to continue to be left out of this recovery. I think it’s important to focus on job creation that’s going to benefit Iowans not Wall Street investment bankers. The plans that she has laid out consistently do that, whether it’s privatizing Social Security or talking about an investment strategy that is not going to create the types of jobs we need. We need to invest in our infrastructure. We need to invest in our manufacturing base because that’s what’s going to create jobs in Iowa and complement our economy. Every dollar we invest in infrastructure increases the national GDP by $1.60. Every billion dollars we invest creates 25,000 jobs.
OBRADOVICH: Thank you, and I suspect you’ll want to respond?
ERNST: Yes, I do. I grew up working minimum wage jobs to put myself through college. I was the morning biscuit maker at Hardee’s in Red Oak so I understand, and I believe that we need a minimum wage. I believe that, and I support that. However, I believe that needs to be set by the states because what is good for Iowa is not necessarily what’s right for California or New York. I do believe that the states need to set that.
BRALEY: May I respond to that?
COONEY: You sure may.
BRALEY: Sixty percent of the Iowans who would get a pay raise by raising the minimum wage out of at these 300,000 are women. Fifty percent of them are over the age of 30. Many of them have children and are depending upon these jobs and still are living in poverty. That is why my promise is to go to Washington, raise the minimum wage. Senator Ernst doesn’t think the minimum wage is her problem. My promise is that it is your priority.
COONEY: All right. Thanks, candidates. Moving from wages, somehow just seems natural, let’s talk taxes. Everyone can agree that something needs to be done to simplify the tax code. It’s 5,000 to 7,000 to 8,000 pages depending on who you hear. So what do you say should be done, what deductions should be eliminated or changed, what simplifications could be implemented? Should the tax be flat, or flatter, and do you think the tax burdens should be shifted? We begin with Mr. Braley.
BRALEY: You know, I brought in a nonpartisan group called the Concord Coalition to have town hall meetings in my district so that we could talk about how the federal government raises money and spends money. If you ask everybody in the room, Kevin, how many do you think the tax code needs to be simplified every hand goes up. Then you start talking about specifics and say how many of you would like to give up your charitable contribution to your church and hands start to go down. When you say how many would like to give up your home mortgage interest deduction hands start to go down. We need to have a meaningful conversation where we put all of this on the table and we talk about the tradeoffs of making things simpler, but what I do not support is Senator Ernst’s proposal, that is a Tea Party proposal, to impose a 23% national sales tax in place of the current income tax system. Why? Because the people who are going to be hardest hit by that are going to be the working class Iowans who are going to be paying 23% national sales tax, 6% state sales tax, and it’s going to hit them most severely. That’s why that type of a misguided proposal is not the solution to simplifying our tax problems. The solution is Republicans and Democrats coming together and solving the problem.
COONEY: Thank you. Ms. Ernst. Your response, same question.
ERNST: Yes. I have not endorsed any tax plan so I want to make that very clear, but what I do believe is that Iowans need to keep more of their paychecks in their own pockets. My family works very hard. I know many other families work very hard so let’s allow them to make the decisions on how they’re spending their hard earned paycheck. I do believe that we need to lower taxes immediately on our hard working families and whether that’s fairer, flatter, or simpler I am very willing to have that discussion.
Again, it does need to be done in a bipartisan manner. This is where you will see a very clear contrast between the Congressman and myself. I have voted for one of the largest, and actually it was the largest, tax decrease in Iowa history. As I stated before, we are saving Iowa taxpayers $4.4 billion dollars over the next 10 years. The Congressman has voted for one of the largest tax increases in the United States’ history, and that hurts all of us so we need to lower taxes immediately but work in the long term to scrap the existing tax code to make it fairer, flatter, and simpler.
COONEY: Thanks both of you, what should be done, Mr. Braley? You talked about having a meeting, so to speak, but specifically I was asking about what deductions should be eliminated, what should be changed? Can you tell me some specifics?
BRALEY: Well, part of the challenge, Kevin, is when you get people in a room and start saying let’s eliminate this. You have to look at how much revenue that’s going to eliminate and what you’re going to do to replace it with.
COONEY: What are some of your feelings about this, not what other people feel? We want to know what you think.
BRALEY: Well, what I think is we need to start by eliminating corporate tax loopholes that reward companies for shipping jobs overseas. That is something that should have been done a long time ago. We need to do it now. One of the other things we should’ve done is, we should’ve given the government the ability to negotiate lower drug prices when the prescription drug bill was passed before it came to Congress because that would put billions of dollars of revenue into the treasury and then we could start eliminating some of these other things that you’re talking about.
COONEY: Good enough, Mr. Braley. Ms. Ernst, you talk about lowering taxes. I just want to follow up on that and have you get specific. How do you lower taxes? How are we going to lower taxes and still pay for the things that need to be paid for?
ERNST: Well, you start by working in a bipartisan manner. I think both of us have agreed on that that we need to sit down and talk about these issues. I am a member of the minority party in the State Senate and yet we were able to sit down and work through this and lower taxes on hard working Iowans. So yes, we need to close loopholes. I don’t think anybody disagrees with that. Flatter, fairer, or simpler. The way we pay for things first, we need to cut spending in the federal government, but with the economy growing then our tax problem would be fixed.
OBRADOVICH: Thank you. We’ve talked about the difficulty in coming together on taxes. Another difficult issue facing all of America is immigration. Do you believe, Ms. Ernst, that undocumented immigrants are primarily a drain on law enforcement and social services or are they a source primarily of needed labor and entrepreneurship that helps the economy and regardless of what you believe, how will you act on that?
ERNST: Well, America – thank you, Kathie – America is the greatest nation in the world which is why so many families want to come to America and do better for their own families. When I was a young woman I participated in an agricultural exchange to the Soviet Union, and the family that I stayed with didn’t talk to me about ag practices. What they did talk about was what was it like to be an American. They so badly wanted our freedoms so I do understand why people want to immigrate to the United States, but you know, we are a nation of immigrants but we are also a nation of laws. I believe we need to enforce those laws. First we need to secure the border, second is we need to enforce the laws that are on the books, and then over the long term we really do need to modernize our legal immigration system because we do have a need for workers here in the United States. I disagree with Congressman Braley, though, when it comes to issues of immigration. I don’t support amnesty, and I certainly don’t support executive action to grant amnesty.
COONEY: Mr. Braley, are undocumented immigrants mostly a law enforcement problem or are they mostly an opportunity for the economy? How do you deal with those things?
BRALEY: Kathie, this is another great example where Tea Party obstructionism is keeping us from getting the problem solved. The Senate passed an overwhelming bipartisan immigration reform. Fourteen
Republican Senators voted for it to address the longstanding problems. It increased border security, and it increased the ability for people who are living here to find a pathway to citizenship, not through amnesty, but by admitting they broke the law, paying a steep fine, going to the back of the line, and letting us solve this problem. I talked to dairy farmers in Iowa who depend on immigrant labor when they used to have a hired man who grew up in this state. I talked to seed corn companies. I think Senator Ernst and I both detasseled corn when we were younger. Now 30% to 40$ of the detasselers in Iowa are immigrant labor. High tech companies are in desperate need of PHDs and engineers that we educate at our great research facilities and they get sent back home. 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?
OBRADOVICH: Ms. Ernst, you may respond.
ERNST: Again, well, we are a nation of laws and we have wonderful immigrants here in the United States that have come here legally so I don’t support amnesty. I do support bringing a lot of these illegal immigrants, there are 11.5 million of them, I believe in bringing them forward, but not granting them amnesty. We have 5 million people waiting in line right now to receive United States citizenship, and we need to honor that commitment to those 5 million people.
BRALEY: May I respond? Senator Rubio and Senator McCain did not vote for amnesty. Amnesty is when you break the law and there are no consequences. That is why they voted for this bill. It has real, serious, tough consequences including an admission that you broke the law.
COONEY: All right. Candidates one more question here before we move on to the next segment. What, if any, legislation would you pursue, support, or sponsor at the federal level that deals with abortion, abortion funding, or drugs connected to abortion, or contraception? Mr. Braley.
BRALEY: Well, what I won’t do is support the type of legislation that Senator Ernst introduced in Iowa that would have banned all forms of abortion, that would have prevented certain forms of contraception from being available to Iowa women, that would have prevented in vitro fertilization, and would have prosecuted doctors for performing what are now legal procedures. I don’t think it’s the role of government to get in between women and their physicians and making decisions relating to their health care, and that is what I won’t support.
COONEY: Very good. Ms. Ernst.
ERNST: I support life. I believe in life. That is a discussion that we need to have civilly. The amendment that is being referenced by the Congressman would not do any of the things that you stated it would do. That amendment is simply a statement that I support life. My faith has shaped me on this very issue, and it is a very, very personal issue. I think that it is something that we will continue to disagree on. I will support life. The Congressman believes in partial birth abortion and these are things that we will just continue to disagree on but we can disagree on them civilly.
BRALEY: And, Senator Ernst, I respect your faith. I have my own faith that is very deep and personal to me, but let’s be clear. The Cedar Rapids Gazette did a fact check on the amendment that you introduced and said that it would do all the things that I said it would, that it would ban forms of contraception, it would prevent people from getting in vitro fertilization, and you personally said doctors who perform those procedures under your bill should be prosecuted. That’s the reality, and that is what the Cedar Rapids Gazette said.
COONEY: Thank you. Final comment?
ERNST: That is only if legislation would be passed. This amendment, again, was a statement of life. Again, my faith has shaped me on that. When it does come to a woman’s access to contraception, I will always stand with our women on affordable access to contraception. Again, that is something that Congressman Braley has been trying to mislead our women voters on. I do believe in a woman’s right to contraception.
COONEY: All right, we’ll leave it there for this segment. We want to thank you for those answers. We are going to begin the next part of our debate from questions from our viewers and readers plus questions from Twitter that were submitted to us live during this broadcast. Again, if you would like to submit any of those questions, use the hashtag IA debate. But first, we want to begin this part of the debate with a question for each of you from a student here at Simpson College. Ms. Ernst, you get the first question from Jake. He joins us from the studio audience. You have 45 seconds to respond.
Jake McClain (audience member): My name is Jake McClain and I’m a junior majoring in Religion here at Simpson College. My question is for you, State Senator Ernst. Ms. Ernst, you’ve said that you would like to eliminate the Department of Education. What implications does this have for students who have received Pell Grants and federal student loans?
ERNST: Thank you, Jake. That is a great question. It doesn’t do anything to those that receive Pell Grants and student loans. Those are programs that are very necessary for our college students, but they can easily be housed in the Department of Treasury. Now, when it comes to the Department of Education, 94% of those that are employed at the Department of Education at the federal level were deemed by the department as ‘nonessential employees’. I would rather see the dollars that go to those nonessential employees being directed back at the states so they can be utilized by our teachers, by our administrators and making sure that our Iowa students are receiving a great education.
COONEY: Jake, thanks for that question. Mr. Braley, your question comes from another Simpson College student. Jacy, your question.
JACY GOMEZ (AUDIENCE MEMBER: My name is Jacy Gomez and I’m also a junior here at Simpson College with majors in both Religion and Spanish. My question is for your, Congressman Braley. In light of new terror threats in the Middle East, what specifically advice would you give President Obama?
BRALEY: The most important advice is to make sure you do everything you can to engage our partners in the Middle East and our allies around the world in dealing with this global terrorist threat. I thought it was very encouraging that last week an Arab-Muslim fighter pilot was a women was flying in the sorties with US fighters. We need to engage so that we are doing this not as the world’s police force but as a community of nations bringing to bear the full weight of world opinion on these horrific acts that we keep seeing. That’s one of the most important things that the President can do in addition to keeping Congress engaged because only Congress can declare war.
COONEY: All right. Thanks for those answers, candidates. Thanks to Jake and Jacy from the studio audience here at Simpson College with their questions. We move on now to some other questions from viewers and readers that have been submitted leading up to tonight’s debate. KCCI and the Register, safe to say, received dozens and dozens and dozens of questions. Candidates will get 45 seconds to answer these questions as well and a chance for rebuttal if needed. Kathie, the first question goes to Mr. Braley.
OBRADOVICH: Yes. Mr. Braley, a reader from Des Moines would like to know why are you opposed to tort reform such as limiting jury awards for people suing for damages in medical malpractice cases.
BRALEY: Well, Kathie, I just happen to think that we need to be doing more to protect Iowa consumers and families and not taking away their rights under the Constitution. One of the things that we need to be talking about is when people are making radical proposals to take away your rights, you need to be thinking about what’s that going to mean when something happens to me. I think that’s something that is important to Iowans. I think Iowans have always known that they need to hold people accountable for what they do when it’s harmful and wrong and that’s why I don’t support those proposals.
COONEY: All right.
OBRADOVICH: Let me just ask you really quick as a follow-up, do you not believe that defensive medicine is a significant part of why health care is so high?
BRALEY: Kathie, there are a host of different factors that contribute to the cost of medicine. One of the things we’ve seen, and in fact you referenced this, I think, Kevin, in your opening, is for the first time in years we’re seeing the significant growth in medical costs actually start to level off and not be as high as it had been previously. That is in part due to some of the measures we put in place with the Affordable Care Act to cut wasteful spending. We know that there are certain parts of the country where there is a lot of spending that Iowans end up paying for.
COONEY: Thank you, Mr. Braley. Ms. Ernst, we’ve received a number of e-mails about climate change for you and viewers and readers want to know what do you believe about climate change and what, if anything, will you do about it?
ERNST: Well, I grew up drinking well water on a southwest Iowa farm and my dad is a wonderful conservationist. Most Iowa farmers are phenomenal conservationists so I do believe in protecting our environment for not only our generation but for our children and future generations. I drive a hybrid car. My family recycles everything. I don’t know the science behind climate change. I can’t say one way or another what is the direct impact from whether it is manmade or not. I have heard arguments from both sides, but I do believe in protecting our environment but without the job-killing regulations that are coming out of the EPA which is what Congressman Braley supports.
COONEY: Just to clarify, you do accept that climate change does exist?
ERNST: I do believe that our climate is changing, but again, I’m not sure what the impact of man is upon that climate change.
OBRADOVICH: I think she just said what you believe. Go ahead and….
BRALEY: Look, there is a significant difference between on these issues. Senator Ernst wants to abolish the EPA and the Clean Water Act, and I think that’s a misguided decision. We know Iowa’s farmers do a great job, for the most part, in trying to preserve the land that they farm because stewardship is a big part of farming. The reality is that Iowans want to have a strong robust agricultural economy and they want clean air and clean water. They want to be able to hunt and fish and hike and bike. If you don’t accept that this is a real problem, which it sounds like Senator Ernst doesn’t, many Iowa companies believe it strongly and think that if we don’t do something it will harm our economy.
OBRADOVICH: We’ve gone a little over time, but we want to give you a chance to respond.
ERNST: Yes, thank you. I believe the dollars directed at the federal level could be spent here in Iowa because, again, Iowans know at the state level best what our natural resources are and how to best protect those natural resources. However, Congressman Braley just the other week stood with the EPA in voting against Ditch the Rule, which would have protected our Iowa farmers from EPA federal government overreach when it comes to waters on their own land. Then he tried to mislead Iowa voters by saying he would fight against this rule.
BRALEY: Kathie, I have to respond to that.
OBRADOVICH: Go ahead.
BRALEY: I voted against the EPA having the power to regulate ditches and farm ponds. What I didn’t vote for was throwing everything out and going back to square one because Iowa farmers have been waiting for guidance under the Clean Water Act and that’s exactly what that bill would have done.
OBRADOVICH: All right, let’s leave on to another reader question. It starts with Mr. Braley. How can we eliminate or reduce the national debt without raising taxes or cutting entitlements? If you can give that answer in 45 seconds, I will applaud.
BRALEY: Well, Kathie, it has to be a balanced approached. That’s the whole focus of these deficit reduction workshops we did where Iowans came and sat down with their neighbors and sat through the same type of decisions that we have to deal with in Congress and voted whether to cut spending in targeted areas or increase revenues. Those are the hard choices that need to be made, but it has to be a balanced approach. You know, when Iowans face financial problems, they tighten their belts but often times they’ll go out and look for a part time job to help supplement their income. What we have to do is bring that balanced approach and find those wasteful programs. We should be reviewing every federal program for potential fraud and waste and getting rid of those bad programs, and we also need to look at increasing our economy.
COONEY: Do you have – I just want to give you the opportunity to rebut.
ERNST: Yes, thank you. We do have to reduce our debt. Unfortunately in the eight years that Congressman Braley has been in Washington DC he has voted eight times to raise our federal debt ceiling and our debt has doubled in the time that he has been in Washington DC. We need to take a good, hard look at the way our federal government is spending. First we need to eliminate waste. Even within the Department of Defense we can find examples there of contracting where we can cut back to save dollars. Next if we look at Medicare just in 2013 alone there was $50 billion of waste and fraud that was identified. Then maybe last if we don’t get a budget approved we can cut congressional salaries.
COONEY: We have tons of viewer questions. If it’s okay, I’d like to move on to get to another couple here if we can before we run out of time. This one from an Iowa viewer who says, ‘Ms. Ernst, your campaign website talks about job-killing regulations that are crushing small businesses,’ I believe this was a topic you mentioned, too, earlier, ‘can you tell us some specific regulations that are hurting Iowa employers today?’
ERNST: if you look at cap and trade would be one example. Not only is it an increased tax to Iowans and businesses out there, but it would also cost Iowans an additional thousand dollars in utility cost every year. This is something that was supported by Congressman Braley. Other areas would again be the EPA as it applies to the Clean Water Act and the overreach that the EPA has when it applies to farmers’ lands. If you look at the rule that allows the federal government to come in and regulate waters on farmers’ lands, before they put in a terrace, before they planted a tree they would have to go to the federal government and basically ask for permission.
COONEY: Mr. Braley, go ahead.
BRALEY: Each of the items Senator Ernst just mentioned are not law. She talked about cap and trade and it didn’t become law. She talked about the proposed rule on clean water, it’s a proposed rule. I have been working to try to make sure that it’s a balanced rule and isn’t harmful to farmers and agriculture, but that has not become a rule yet.
OBRADOVICH: Very quickly would you like to respond?
ERNST: Yes, I would. You mentioned rules and regulations. Well, these are things that the Congressman has supported which would kill jobs here in Iowa. I believe we need to do what’s best for Iowans and stand up against those rules and regulations, but he continues to support those.
OBRADOVICH: Mr. Braley, a reader asks, ‘where do you stand today on the XL Keystone pipeline and if your position has changed, why?
BRALEY: I’m opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline, and I’ll be happy to tell you why. When the pipeline was first brought before Congress and was being discussed in terms of the benefits that it would provide, there were a lot of promises made. That’s why I voted for it in committee, but then when it came for a vote on the floor, I looked at what those promised looked like then and they didn’t live up to what was supposed to happen. There was no assurance that the oil was going to be sold here in the United States. There was no guarantee that it was going to create a significant number of jobs that were going to benefit Iowa. So for me on energy policy, you need to look at is it going to be reducing our dependence of foreign oil, promoting renewable energy, 75,000 renewable energy jobs in Iowa, and it didn’t pass that test.
COONEY: Ms. Ernst. You say philosophically you oppose subsidies, but you support the renewable fuel standard. This viewer wants to know how long would you make an exception for the renewable fuel standard?
ERNST: I think until we are on equal footing. If you look at all the subsidies that are going out there to oil and many other sectors out there within the energy industry, our RFS needs to be on equal footing so I am someone that will continue to support the RFS. I grew up on a southwest Iowa farm, and my father is a farmer, a very proud farmer. One in six jobs are created by the Iowa farmer, and that is why I’m so happy to have the endorsement of the Iowa Farm Bureau. Again, I will continue to support the RFS and do that as your next United State Senator.
BRALEY: If I could respond. I’m not sure that is what Senator Ernst told the Koch Brother when she went to their secret meetings. She said that she was philosophically opposed to the renewable fuel standard and in a perfect world it wouldn’t exist. My support of the renewable fuel standard has been clear, strong, and unequivocal. In my first term in Congress, I voted to triple the RFS, and I stood up to big oil at every opportunity because their interests are not Iowa values.
ERNST: I would like to respond.
ERNST: Congressman Braley, you’re not running against these other people you’re running against me. I am a mother, I am a soldier, and I am an independent leader. You are being funded by Tom Steyer who is a California billionaire extreme environmentalist so remember, please, that you are running against me not against any of these other groups. You are running against me.
BRALEY: I realize that. President Obama’s name is not on the ballot, and I’m not going to owe President Obama anything on Election Day. You’re going to owe the Koch Brothers everything.
ERNST: I owe them….
COONEY: Please continue.
ERNST: Thank you. I owe nobody anything except for these Iowa people. I will stand up and do what’s right for Iowans not for California extreme environmentalists, not for Senator Harry Reed, not for President Obama but, again, for the Iowa people. I am someone that has stood up for my community, my state, and my nation. I have not left my rural roots, but I think, Congressman, you have left those behind in your beltway ways.
COONEY: Fifteen seconds to wrap up this topic.
OBRADOVICH: One last response.
BRALEY: I have never forgotten where I came from. That is why I voted to pass the 5-year Farm Bill and every major farm group in Iowa supported it. That’s why the Iowa Corn Growers are supporting me in this election and the National Farmers Union has given me an award. I have not forgotten my rural values.
OBRADOVICH: All right, we want to thank both of you –
ERNST: May I respond, please?
OBRADOVICH: You can respond. I am going to ask you one last question, though, and you can incorporate your response if you like. We would like to turn the questions that were submitted embedded live during our broadcast from Twitter using the hashtag IA Debate. We do start with a question for Ms. Ernst. You have stated you are against a national minimum wage and it should be determined by states. What should Iowa’s minimum wage be?
ERNST: Again, I do believe that is something that needs to be set by the state because our Iowa cost of living is very low. Currently it is at 7.25 an hour. I am someone that worked at minimum wage way back when it was much lower, but the way that we can come at this and do better for Iowa families is by growing our economy and making sure that we have good-paying jobs to go out to, making sure that our college graduates are finding good jobs. With the policies that are supported by Congressman Braley, in 2013 11% of our college graduates couldn’t find employment. We need to make sure that our hard working Iowa families can actually get up in the morning, go out to a great-paying job and provide for their family.
OBRADOVICH: You may respond.
BRALEY: Senator Ernst has made it very clear that she is opposed to a federal minimum wage. She would not vote to raise it. She would vote to repeal it, and she would not raise the state minimum wage. That means if you’re working a full time job at minimum wage in Iowa you are going to be making $15,000 a year. I think that’s wrong. She has called the federal minimum wage ridiculous. You know what I think is ridiculous? That a family working full time in this state is making $15,000 a year.
COONEY: All right, let’s continue on with one more Twitter question. We’re almost out of time. This is to Mr. Braley. Why do you and the Democratic Party think you’re better qualified to make decisions for me and other Iowans such as taking over health care?
BRALEY: Well, I think it’s because I am a bridge building not a bridge burner. I have a proven track record of working with Republicans. The very first bill I introduced created a job training act in biofuels through Iowa community colleges. I got that passed in the Farm Bill by working with a Republican from Alabama. I worked with Republicans from Minnesota to get benefits for the Iowa National Guard that were being denied them by the Pentagon. I worked with a Republican from Georgia to keep Iowa manufacturing jobs here instead of having them go overseas. I have a proven history of working across the aisle with Republicans in the House and the Senate because that is what Iowans deserve from their next senator. Senator Ernst would have voted to shut down the federal government with Ted Cruz. She has called President Obama a dictator and thinks impeachment should be on the table.
ERNST: I would like to respond to that. Congressman, you threatened to sue a neighbor over chickens that came onto your property. You’re talking about bipartisanship. How do we expect, as Iowans, to believe that you will work across the aisle when you can’t walk across your yard?
BRALEY: That is not true.
COONEY: Ten seconds. Got to go.
BRALEY: It’s just not true. I never threatened to sue anyone. It’s not true.
COONEY: All right. We have just about 30 seconds left to go. We want to ask you a couple of really quick questions so just a couple of one-word answers.
OBRADOVICH: All right, Mr. Braley, if you are elected to the Senate, who is the first person you would call for advice?
BRALEY: Chuck Grassley.
COONEY: All right. Ms. Ernst.
ERNST: Chuck Grassley.
COONEY: Ms. Ernst, is there a country receiving aid from the United States that you would cut off?
ERNST: I would have to look at what that aid is for.
OBRADOVICH: Ms. Ernst, which of the potential 2016 presidential candidates do you most identify with?
ERNST: Chuck Grassley.
OBRADOVICH: He’s not running for President I don’t think.
ERNST: I would encourage him to do it.
OBRADOVICH: Mr. Braley?
BRALEY: I think that the field hasn’t even shaped up yet so I don’t know how you could identify the candidate. I think one of the things that we want is a candidate to bring us together.
COONEY: Okay, we have just five seconds left to say thank you to the candidates, thank you to Simpson College, and thanks to the people here. We appreciate it. Thank you very much. Thank you candidates.