Miller-Meeks, Loebsack spar in Iowa City

Debate night!
Loebsack and Miller-Meeks are competing for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. — photo by Adam Sullivan

During a debate in Iowa City Thursday night, Incumbent U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack had to answer to being named the least effective Congressman, while challenger Mariannette Miller-Meeks had to explain why she hasn’t won this race in her last two attempts.

Democrat Loebsack and Republican Miller-Meeks participated in a debate hosted by Iowa Public Television in the City High auditorium. Loebsack, an eight-year congressman representing Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, faces Miller-Meeks for the third time — Loebsack won easily in 2008 and narrowly in 2010.

Miller-Meeks’ resume includes more than two decades in the military, a medical career, and a stint as Gov. Terry Branstad’s public health director.

“If you look at what we’ve done in the state you Iowa,” she said of her time in the Branstad administration, “you can export great economic policies to Washington, D.C.”

Miller-Meeks has made Loebsack out to be an ineffective congressman in a dysfunctional capitol. She said he’s too cozy with a president with a low-approval rating (Loebsack votes with the Democrats 90 percent of the time, by’s count, which sadly isn’t that high in Congress).

“There’s not a bill that has your name on it that has been introduced and been passed,” Miller-Meeks said. ” … He is a puppet of this administration and a puppet of Nancy Pelosi.”

But Loebsack can point to a few policy successes in the House. His “SECTORS Act,” aimed to increase training for high-demand trades and had wide support in the U.S. House, but couldn’t get through a gridlocked U.S. Senate. Finally this year, large portions of the bill were included in the larger Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which was signed into law. He’s also worked with other Iowa lawmakers to secure disaster recovery funding.

“I’ve tried to be part of the solution,” Loebsack said, talking up his bipartisan credentials a minute after a question about a Des Moines Register feature two years ago that ranked him Iowa’s least effective federal lawmaker.

Loebsack on Thursday criticized Miller-Meeks for being unclear about her positions. She avoided answering direct questions about policy positions more than once — whether food assistance (SNAP) should be part of the farm bill; whether she’d vote to increase the debt ceiling; and whether she’d vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act (AKA ObamaCare). And both candidates skirted around a question about whether Iowa communities should host immigrant children.

“Over the years, I’ve heard Dr. Miller-Meeks transform and change her position,” Loebsack said during the health care discussion. ” … I’m not sure exactly where you are on this.”

Watch the full debate via Iowa Public Television