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U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne on $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill: 'We've got to get this done'

Des Moines Register logo Des Moines Register 2/26/2021 Brianne Pfannenstiel, Des Moines Register
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U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne plans to vote for the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package moving through Congress, saying it will provide a boost to Iowans hit hard by the pandemic and provide necessary relief to businesses and local governments.

"We've got to get this done," Axne, a Democrat, told the Des Moines Register. "It should have been done last year, and we're gonna make it happen."

Axne represents Iowa's 3rd Congressional District, which includes Des Moines and the southwest corner of the state. 

In the lead-up to the 2020 election, all eyes are on Iowa. Get updates of all things Iowa politics delivered to your inbox.

The "American Rescue Plan," which is expected to be approved by the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives Friday, comes with a nearly $2 trillion price tag — much higher than what Republicans have proposed, but still short of what some more progressive Democrats have called for.

"First and foremost, I think it's our responsibility to ensure that Americans have what it takes to put food on their table and keep their lights on," Axne said. "And so it's painful to hear Republicans just say, 'Oh, it costs too much.' Tell that to the unemployed mother who's trying to feed her child."

a person sitting in front of a building: U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne listens to a question during the Iowa Press Third Congressional District Debate at Iowa PBS on Oct. 5, 2020. © Emily Blobaum, Iowa PBS/Emily Blobaum/Pool U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne listens to a question during the Iowa Press Third Congressional District Debate at Iowa PBS on Oct. 5, 2020.

No House Republicans are expected to support the bill, and it is likely to undergo changes when it reaches the Senate. 

The package includes a third round of direct stimulus payments of up to $1,400 for individuals, extends enhanced unemployment benefits, provides billions of dollars for vaccine development and distribution, increases the Child Tax Credit and boosts funding to state and local governments.

More: Where does the $1.9T COVID-19 relief bill go from here? And, when can you expect help? Here's what we know.

Democrats had also fought to include a provision raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2025, but a Senate official ruled Thursday the measure could not be included. Although that provision will not survive in the Senate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said the House would still vote on the increase.

Axne, who has voted previously to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, told the Register she will continue to push for an increase. 

"We've got to get to $15 an hour, but I'll be looking to ensure that things like tax credits for small businesses with low profitability can can make this happen," she said. 

Axne disagrees with Gov. Kim Reynolds on school policy

Republicans have also pushed to tie the billions of dollars allocated for K-12 schools to mandatory in-person learning. 

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed legislation requiring all public schools to offer a full-time in-person learning option for students. And the Republican-controlled Legislature is considering a measure that would prioritize state funding for schools districts that met in person during the pandemic or followed Reynolds' waiver guidelines. 

Axne said she disagrees with Reynolds' approach in Iowa. 

"But since the governor has declared that all schools have to provide 100% in-person learning, these are the resources that they're going to need to do that safely," she said.

Some conservative groups are working to tie swing-district Democrats to a bill they describe as "hijacking COVID relief." The American Action Network has launched digital ads and made phone calls in 11 House districts, including Iowa's 3rd District, to help make that case. 

“Dollar for dollar, this bill does far more to fund the far-left’s socialist political agenda than it does to deliver meaningful relief to the families and small businesses who need it most,” organization President Dan Conston said in a statement. “American families, students and small businesses are falling behind like never before, yet over half the bill is being spent on unrelated progressive policy priorities."

Republicans have already identified Axne as a key target in the 2022 midterms, placing her on a list of 47 Democratic incumbents it sees as vulnerable

Though Axne won a second term in 2020, she did so by a narrower margin — just 1.5 percentage points — than she did in 2018. She currently is Iowa's only Democrat in Congress, though a review of Iowa's 2nd District results is still pending.

Axne said that she believes Iowans across her district support the legislation.

"I do my job for the people in the state, and I'm never going to be swayed because of some political ad that's being thrown against me," she said. 

More: For jobless who don't qualify for standard unemployment, here's what to know as Iowa prepares to make long-delayed payments

Where do Reps. Ashley Hinson, Randy Feenstra stand?

Republican U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, who represents Iowa's 1st District, has sent fundraising letters calling the relief package a "bailout" for blue states. 

"Ashley strongly opposes this measure because, instead of focusing on unemployment benefits for people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, this relief package uses hardworking taxpayer dollars to bail out blue states like New York, California, and Illinois, that have mismanaged their funds," the email says.

And Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra in Iowa's 4th District has called on Democrats to include disaster relief for Iowans affected by the 2020 derecho storm. 

"My proposal was the one last hope for bipartisanship in this entire reconciliation process, but in a clear indication that Democrats were never interested in ‘unity,’ they are plotting to strip this commonsense, much-needed provision out of the bill," he said in a statement. 

Axne said she agrees that derecho relief should be included in the bill. 

'The need is real': GOP mayors embrace Biden's COVID-19 relief plan even as Republican lawmakers pan it

Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at bpfann@dmreg.com or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne on $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill: 'We've got to get this done'

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