State Senator Joni Ernst, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, talks with Morning Edition one week before the 2014 Elections.
Clay Masters: It’s Morning Edition on Iowa Public Radio. Good morning, I’m Clay Masters. We’re a week out from Election Day. Voters in Iowa will select a new United State Senator to replace retiring Democrat Tom Harkin.
Republican state Senator Joni Ernst and Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley are the major party candidates on the ballot. Most polls show the race too close to call.
With me this hour on the phone is state Senator Joni Ernst. Good Morning, Senator.
Sen. Joni Ernst: Good morning Clay. Good morning, great to be here.
Masters: Well first of all, one of the big issues in this race is social security. According to the Social Security Administration’s website, as early as 2033 if no legislative change is enacted, scheduled tax revenues will be sufficient to pay only about three-fourths of the scheduled benefits.
Now you’ve had plenty of ads talking about not taking away social security for those retired or nearing retirement. What are options on the table to ensure people in their 20s and 30s will get these benefits?
Sen. Ernst: This is a very important issue because we do have over 600,000 Iowans that rely on Social Security. One think I don’t support is raising the retirement age. I think our retirees have worked great long careers and have contributed. I don’t want them to have to work another 5, 10 years to receive benefits.
So as we look at younger people that are entering the workforce, there are a lot of options out there. One that we have talked about before too, is those that don’t currently participate in the Social Security program. We have a lot of state and local workers across the United States that don’t participate. For any of those new people that are coming into those types of the positions, bringing them into Social Security would help shore up the system.
But there’s a lot of options, but again we don’t want to endorse any one plan or another. I don’t because it’s not a Republican plan, it’s not a Democratic plan. We need to sit down and we need to talk through these issues, and make it work for the long term.
Masters: So, is privatization of social security on the table?
Sen. Ernst: Well there is an option out there and it is one that has been discussed in previous legislatures. It’s something that could be in the mix. But it is again just an option, it’s not one that I’ve endorsed. I’ve looked at a lot of different things. But again, because it is a Republican and a Democratic issue we need to sit down and look through all options and make sure that for these younger workers we’re finding a way to shore up social security for the long term.
Masters: On another topic, there’s been a lot of attention to a personhood amendment you supported in 2013 to the state constitution. It stated “inalienable right to life of every person at any stage of development shall be recognized and protected.” You’ve also said you support abortion if the life of the mother is at risk. How at risk does the mother's life have to be?
Sen. Ernst: Well that would be a decision that would have to be made by a physician or someone in that capacity. As a legislator that’s not my call. That would have to be determined by a physician. But again I just support life, I support life. And I think most Iowans do support life.
Masters: Now another big issue this midterm is the Affordable Care Act. You’ve been negative about Obamacare, what do you propose as a replacement or how would you go about insuring the millions who were previously uninsured. And how they would have coverage under Obamacare if we stuck with the current system?
Sen. Ernst: I don’t believe I’ve been to a county yet where someone hasn’t shared the impact of Obamacare on their families. It’s actually hurting a number of Iowa families across the state.
So as we look at replacement for Obamacare, allowing tax credits for those that privately purchased insurance, allowing insurers to sell over state lines, creating greater competition in the marketplace. Allowing small businesses, churches, organizations to pool together to self-insure. These are things that we allow our large businesses to do right now.
And then also one thing, very important, is the fact that states need to do tort reform. We need to encourage tort reform. Because our healthcare costs, every dollar that we spend on healthcare, 27 cents of that goes to litigation.
And my opponent has stated that he has fought 30 years of his life against tort reform. Well bottom line, that’s contributing to the high costs of healthcare here in the United States, we have to do something about it.
Masters: If there’s one thing that Republicans and Democratic voters can probably agree on is that they’re sick of Congressional gridlock. Here in Iowa, we have a split legislature, and in 2013 there were a lot of compromises. Can you give an example of when you worked across party lines in the statehouse? Is there a specific issue you can imagine working with democratic colleagues on in the U.S. Senate?
Sen. Ernst: Well I can tell you that here in the state of Iowa I am a minority member in the Iowa State Senate. We do have a split legislature, and where we have worked together very successfully here in Iowa is implementing the largest tax cut in Iowa history. We’ve had mental health reform, education reform. We’ve worked on rolling back rules and regulations that didn’t make sense.
So there are a number of things I can imagine myself working on with Democrats that serve in the United States Senate. Tax reform is one. I think we can agree on a lot of different reforms within our tax structure.
I’ve already stated that when it comes to assault, sexual assault in the military, I would gladly, gladly work across the aisle with Democratic Senator (Kirsten) Gillibrand to find a resolution for this issue in the military. There’s so many things that we can work across the lines and do better for the American people, and I’m ready to step up and do that.
Masters: Alright, the days are winding down. Senator Ernst, thank you so much.
Sen. Ernst: Thanks, Clay. Have a great day.