Commentary

Gov. Kim Reynolds is campaigning — against Joe Biden

October 3, 2022 8:00 am

Gov. Kim Reynolds is running for re-election against President Joe Biden. (Iowa Capital Dispatch photo illustration; Biden photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images; screenshot of Reynolds from Iowa PBS)

One of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ biggest applause lines at her Harvest fundraiser over the weekend was her announcement that she’s suing the Biden administration over its decision to forgive student loan debt for more than 408,000 Iowans.

There was a time when it would have been considered political malpractice to gloat about actively working to take thousands of dollars out of the pockets of nearly 20% of all adult Iowans. That’s a significant share of the electorate, not even counting spouses and family members who would benefit from the debt forgiveness.

The loan rebate isn’t just for Democrats, after all. Some of the people applauding the governor Saturday night likely have student debt that would be erased or have children or grandchildren who would benefit. Yet, they were likely cheering and applauding with the rest.

I’ve been puzzled by this reaction ever since President Joe Biden announced his administration would forgive up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt and up to $20,000 for lower-income Pell grant recipients.

I didn’t have student loans, and I remain grateful that my parents saved their hard-earned money so my brother and I could attend an economical state university without the debt. I didn’t escape student loans entirely – I helped my husband pay off his loans after we married. But I am happy some of my tax dollars are going to ease some of the burden of loans that are significantly more costly than they were when I went to college. The money will recirculate in the economy, benefiting everyone. The resentment from Republicans took me by surprise.

At first, I assumed it was mostly animosity toward Biden and the Democratic administration. If former President Donald Trump had offered to forgive student loans, instead of deferring payment as he did during the pandemic, I can only imagine these folks would have been delighted to cash the checks. After all, they were gleeful about giving away billions of their hard-earned dollars to the wealthiest Americans in the form of tax cuts during Trump’s administration.

The GOP narrative is that people who paid off their loans or didn’t go to college must now foot the bill for debt forgiveness for people who were somehow less responsible or are presumably wealthier because of their education. (The Biden administration says most of the benefit goes to middle-income Americans.) But again, giving away tax dollars to wealthy people is a Republican tenet, so where’s the beef?

Here’s a more pertinent question: Why is this a talking point for a gubernatorial campaign? It’s less than 40 days until the election, and Reynolds is spending her time running against the U.S. president and Democrats in Congress instead of telling Iowans what she’ll do if re-elected.

On Saturday night, she also repeated the unsupported GOP assertion that the congressional Democrats’ bill allocating $80 billion to the Internal Revenue Service would result in 87,000 new IRS agents bent on harassing hard-working Americans. She also reiterated a key theme from her shockingly cynical and misleading campaign ad that attempts to superimpose national GOP tropes about support for law enforcement onto the Iowa campaign. (Why don’t Republicans consider enforcement of tax laws “law enforcement”?)

It’s no accident that Reynolds is running a nationalized campaign. It’s red meat for the base without a single promise or commitment to Iowans. Lawsuits aside, Reynolds can’t control what the Biden administration or Democrats in Congress do. She can point her finger at Washington without having to lift a finger in Des Moines.

And again, that’s by design. Spelling out an agenda could backfire – like Reynolds’ idea to shift public dollars to private schools that was and continues to be a huge turnoff to rural Iowans.

Her plan, by the way, amounts to taking tax money from people who don’t have kids or who sent their kids to public schools and giving it private-school parents who didn’t sacrifice and save for it like previous generations did. The difference from the student loan give-back is that Biden’s action won’t harm public schools.

Iowans should be asking themselves: What is Reynolds is going to do to improve public education and support higher education? What will she do to attract skilled workers to Iowa, including health care and mental health professionals? What are her ideas for cleaning up Iowa’s water? Will she protect property rights for farmers? How will she enforce laws requiring minimum standards of care in long-term care facilities? How will she pay for it after she’s done spending all the federal money coming from the Biden administration?

As long as Reynolds keeps running against Biden and Congress, she won’t have to tell anyone what she’s planning to do in Iowa.

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.

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