March 13, 2014



What kind of U.S. senator would Iowa's Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley become, if he is elected in November?

A review of his record in the House suggests his votes would mirror those of Tom Harkin, the man whom he hopes to replace.

The Republican candidates for Harkin's seat say Braley would be an out-of-touch liberal from the "ruling class."

"Liberals like Braley ... don't want us to rely on Iowa values," GOP state Sen. Joni Ernst declared at a recent Republican candidate forum, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported.

That suggests a familiar line of attack from the Republicans.

Braley himself is thrilled to make this campaign about Iowa values, especially the belief that politics is about building relationships in order to bring people together, regardless of party label.

"The reason I'm running for the Senate goes back to my hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa," Braley said in an interview with Potomac Watch. "No one asked what party you belonged to when you needed help. ... That's what people expect in Iowa from their elected representatives."

Braley supported all of the big-ticket policy initiatives that came up when President Obama and Democrats controlled the policy levers in Washington, D.C., including the economic stimulus, carbon cap-and-trade, and the Affordable Care Act.

He has reliably opposed the GOP agenda since Republicans captured the House in 2010, although he did join 38 other Democrats in breaking ranks last year to support the "Keep Your Health Plan Act."

National Journal gave Braley a composite 76 percent liberal rating in 2013; Harkin got a 78 percent rating while Republican Sen. Charles Grassley scored a 12.

But voting records go only so far in suggesting how Braley, or anyone else, would operate in the Senate.

Braley likes to point to two bills he introduced and helped pass into law by reaching out to congressional Republicans.

"On my first bill, the New Era Act, which trains people in biofuels, I reached out to (Republican) Rep. Jo Bonner (of Alabama), and the bill eventually became part of the previous farm bill."

When Braley's Plain Writing Act was hung up in the Senate in 2010, Braley said he "sat down for an hour" with then-Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah to work through issues with the bill, which would require the government to present its documents in plain English. The measure was later enacted into law.

He sees "rays of hope" that such an old-fashioned approach to legislating is on the verge of a comeback.

Congress can build on recent bipartisan successes on the farm bill, the budget, a government spending bill for the current year, and a Water Resources and Development Act reauthorization with "huge implications for Iowa," he said.

"I think the no-compromise attitude is fading," Braley said. "People saw what it led to with the government shutdown. The American public overwhelmingly rejected the politics of shutdown and no-compromise."

Here's the point Braley wanted to emphasize, which is an animating feature of his Senate campaign: "Compromise isn't capitulation," he said. "But getting past that doesn't happen at the leadership level. The rank and file (in Congress) has to push for a different way of doing business."

Despite their political differences, Braley said, he can "absolutely" work with Grassley on policies to benefit Iowans, and noted that the veteran Republican senator "was the first person to call me after I was elected" to the House.

But it all boils down to "expanding access to the middle class," Braley said, a theme he returned to repeatedly.

Policies on agriculture, energy, manufacturing and financial services "hold the keys" to growing the middle class, Braley stressed. "I will be a strong advocate for the middle class."

When he arrived in Washington, Braley said, "I wanted to focus on that like a laser," which led him to launch the Populist Caucus in the House.

"Education is a passion of mine," Braley said, adding, "Education is at the foundation of economic development in Iowa."

Braley's wife and mother are both educators, and he said he wants to lead the effort to replace the No Child Left Behind Law.

Braley's issues, from agriculture to education, are fairly orthodox, but perhaps his outlook and approach to legislating are the real differences he brings to this campaign.

He's from eastern Iowa but has traveled to all 99 counties and said he doesn't see "artificial lines drawn around different parts of the state." Braley announced this week that he collected 12,073 signatures - "the most submitted by any statewide candidate this year" - as he filed his formal Senate candidacy papers.

So what would make Braley an effective senator?

He doesn't hesitate: "It's all about being an effective listener."