Two top caucus issues

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Most news outlets buried the lede, as we say in the business, on last weekend’s Iowa Poll published by The Des Moines Register. Headlines across the nation declared that former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders lead the pack with nearly 30% each. Elizabeth Warren is a far sight back and so is Beto O’Rourke. That is not so much news to us.

The big story should have been that health care and climate change are the two biggest issues in the minds of Iowa Democratic caucus-goers. We can understand why — our health insurance rates just went up 24% and our out-of-pocket remains sky-high. Before the Affordable Care Act, our rates increased by as much as 78% per year. We need better, more affordable health care in America and all of us who have seen the doctor or visited the hospital lately should be painfully aware. Rural hospitals are threatened with closing, rural nursing homes are closing, and independent small businesses owners go without insurance because it is so expensive. The 2018 midterm elections went overwhelmingly to Democratic women from the suburbs who made health care their centerpiece. Eighty-four percent of Iowa Poll respondents, likely caucus-goers, said they want a candidate who supports shifting to a government-run health care system — a so-called public option.

Similar numbers of Democrats support a Green New Deal to battle climate change and enhance the Iowa economy through renewable energy and regenerative agriculture. This was not an issue for Democrats in 2016 or 2018 when congressional candidates were door-knocking. JD Scholten talked about climate change and agriculture in his campaign against Rep. Steve King, but he was the only candidate who emphasized it. That is a remarkable change in a short amount of time. One 70-year-old man from Altoona said he has become more concerned about climate change with new reports out over the past six months. One of them might have been the White House Climate Assessment for 2018, which included dire predictions for Iowa corn yields if we don’t start to adapt now. Also, Iowans have seen first-hand the economic benefits that renewable energy bring, and are eager to develop more.

In either case, health care or a Green New Deal, 80% of poll respondents favor higher taxes on incomes over $500,000 to help pay for health care and climate initiatives, among other things. Most respondents also favor taking incremental steps if bigger steps are too ambitious for the moment. They are viewing the issues pragmatically and understand the political complications.

Regarding the horse race, Joe Lieberman topped the polls a year out from the caucuses when Al Gore was the nominee. Beto O’Rourke has not entered the race yet, and nobody has laid a finger on Biden. Warren, Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris have been out there taking their lumps. Sanders and Biden share pockets of support that can switch, the same being true with Sanders and Warren. This is anybody’s race. John Delaney has spent a lot of money over the past year hiring staff and opening field offices. Steve Bullock of Montana could turn some heads with earthy wisdom of winning a red state. The same cable talkers who can’t spell Pete Buttigieg’s last name didn’t see Barack Obama throwing a wrench into Hillary Clinton’s gears a decade ago. This is not a Biden-Bernie race as many would like us to believe. It is just harder to get your head around John Hickenlooper as President because most people don’t know he was a pretty good governor of Colorado.

Trump awful for ag

Another Iowa Poll, on Monday, showed that 81% of Republicans strongly approve of President Trump’s job performance. This despite a trade war with China, Mexico and Canada that chopped $2 off the price of a bushel of soybeans amid significant stress among the state’s farmers — who strongly supported Trump. Also on Monday, the Trump Administration proposed to cut the USDA budget by 15%, or $3.6 billion.

The administration called subsidy programs “overly generous.” The only way Iowa farmers are staying whole this year amid the trade war is through government subsidy.

The budget would reduce the crop insurance subsidy from 62% to 48% and limit income eligibility. It also would cut food stamps. This budget flies in the face of a bipartisan farm bill passed by Congress just months ago, imperfect as it is. Trump wants to spend an additional $9 billion building a wall that draws strong support from Iowa Republicans. It is hard to understand why Iowa farmers continue to support Trump when he plunders commodity markets, watches dairy farmers commit suicide, then cuts USDA farm subsidies. You might want to look at crop insurance subsidy reductions after you end a trade war with China, and see a new agreement through Congress for free agricultural trade with Mexico and Canada, neither of which are done deals. Fortunately, Trump’s budget is merely a political document; Congress appropriates. It indicates that he doesn’t care much about the conventional corn/soybean farmer who depends on a safety net and higher soy prices.