Editorial: Angie Craig is the true centrist candidate in 2nd District

TOPICS: In the News

Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline won election eight times in Minnesota’s 2nd District. Despite growing chatter that Democrats were in play in this emerging “swing” district, Kline handily proved them wrong each time.

Things changed in 2016 when Republican Jason Lewis, a brash and sometimes caustic radio talk-show host, beat DFLer Angie Craig, a former medical-device company executive, by only 1.7 percent in a district that supported Republican President Donald Trump by just 1.2 percent.

Now locked in a 2018 rematch, both candidates — and district voters —  have unfinished business at a time when increasing party polarization, a president with low trust and popularity ratings and divisions along gender and racial lines have scrambled the midterm elections. The race is considered a bellwether in the parties’ battle for control of the House of Representatives.

Both candidates are accentuating a centrist appeal in a district that includes the southern suburbs as well as Goodhue and Wabasha counties and parts of Rice and Washington counties.

We find Craig’s appeal more convincing, her agenda more mainstream and her approaches to helping working families, farmers, students and small businesses more effective.

Putting health care atop her agenda, she criticizes Lewis and the Republican House for approving an Affordable Care Act repeal that failed in the Senate, leaving the ACA in place but weakened by Trump’s executive actions in administering it and by repeal of the individual mandate in a separate tax-reform bill.

She blasts House Republicans’ attempt to undo the ACA’s coverage mandates and allow high-risk insurance plans she calls “junk plans.” The replacement bill had the potential to gut guaranteed coverage of pre-existing conditions — which Craig says afflict half of non-elderly 2nd District residents. She wants to restore full funding of the ACA’s “reinsurance” program, which caps the losses of health insurers covering sicker populations.

Craig calls for Medicare to be allowed to negotiate drug prices and for reforms that keep Big Pharma from “buying off” generic competitors that could offer widely used drugs cheaper.

Emphatically, Craig opposes the growing drumbeat within elements of her party for “Medicare for all,” also known as single-payer government insurance. A House bill calling for a two-year transition is a “pie in the sky” plan that hasn’t been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, she says.

“I’m not going to support something that I don’t know how we’re going to pay for,” Craig told Sun Thisweek newspaper editors in August. However, a Medicare buy-in plan could make insurance affordable for more people and strengthen the retiree-age program’s risk pool, Craig says.

Lewis says the highlight of his first term was helping pass tax reform, his top issue during the 2016 campaign. The 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act cut the corporate income tax rate to 21 percent. Cuts for wage-earners slashed federal taxes by more than $3,000 for an average family of four in the 2nd District, and by almost $2,000 for individuals, Lewis says. The law doubles the standard deduction and child-care credit and caps the state and local income tax  deduction, which Lewis says benefits mostly high earners.

“And I think what we’ve seen from that, contrary even to what the CBO predicted, was a massive upsurge in growth,” said the House Budget Committee member, citing 4.2 percent GDP growth in the second quarter.

Critics, such as the Brookings Institution, say the $1.5 trillion tax law will pile on more debt and produce only transitory, short-term economic growth. Craig is also a critic, saying the cuts short-changed wage-earners compared with corporations, which used the cuts to buy back shares and fatten profits.

While we believe the law was a mistake, Lewis the fiscal hawk — a role well-known to past radio listeners — stuck to principle by voting against omnibus spending bills in 2017 and 2018 and against breaking budget caps set by Congress’ 2011 sequestration deal. But Lewis’ professed faith in economic growth large and sustained enough to blunt revenue losses from tax cuts is a leap indeed.

Lewis touts his work on the Education and the Workforce Committee as emblematic of his bipartisan outreach. He and Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, passed a juvenile justice bill and are working on an adult criminal justice bill to reduce federal incarceration rates. He’s a strong supporter of vocational and technical education.

He and Craig part ways on immigration, with Lewis claiming Democrats blew a compromise deal on “Dreamers” (undocumented immigrants brought here at a young age) by opposing $25 billion for Trump’s wall, and Craig claiming that “30-foot walls” create a market for “32-foot ladders.”

Craig supports the bipartisan immigration reform and pathway to citizenship the Senate passed in 2013 and is more emphatic than Lewis about the need for newcomers to fill jobs and prop up the economy.

She opposes the president’s trade war, echoing the concerns she’s heard from 7th District U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, the House Agricultural Committee’s ranking Democrat. Lewis seems to accede to the administration’s tariff battles while adding concern about the strategy in China, which buys half the United States’ soybeans.

Overall, Craig stands closer to the center both candidates seek to occupy and within closer reach of solutions on which people might actually agree.

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