Bacon, Eastman differ on key issues in House contest
October 9, 2018
Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican seeking a second term in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, starts each morning with a verse from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.
It’s an important part of his routine, Bacon told the Catholic Voice, and one reflection of the Christian faith that guides him in public and private life.
“Whether Catholic, Lutheran or whatever, we’re one church, one family,” said Bacon, a member of nondenominational LifeSpring Church in Bellevue.
A retired Air Force brigadier general who grew up on a farm in Illinois, Bacon faces Kara Eastman, a Florida native and a Democrat who founded and was executive director of Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to educating people about the dangers of lead poisoning and removing lead from the environment.
Eastman was elected in 2014 to the board of governors of Metropolitan Community College.
Eastman did not respond to several emails and telephone calls to her campaign seeking an interview for this story. She states on her website she was a raised by a single mother who received a lot of help from her parents. “I became incredibly close to my grandparents because they really did help raise me,” she said.
“When I was nine, I told my mother I wanted to save the world; when I was 15, I told my best friend that I was going to a college that would best prepare me to help others,” says Eastman, adding in parentheses, “she told me that wasn’t smart because I would never make any money.”
Eastman and Bacon are running in a competitive district that saw Bacon defeat Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford two years ago, and Eastman defeat Ashford in this year’s primary.
Bacon said successes in Congress include better funding for the military and a tax package that promotes business, tax cuts to individuals and economic growth. Eastman has criticized the Republican tax package as a tax cut for the wealthy and large corporations.
Catholics preparing to vote Nov. 6 are encouraged to look at the Bacon-Eastman race through the lens of faith, comparing one candidate’s stands on issues including abortion, health care, education, gun control and immigration with the other and with church teaching.
Abortion is a major issue for Catholics, who regard it is an attack on innocent persons. “In our society, human life is especially under direct attack from abortion, which some political actors mischaracterize as an issue of ‘women’s health,’” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops say in their document on Catholics’ political responsibility titled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” (FCFC, no. 44).
Bacon, who with his wife, Angie, has raised four children and is a grandparent to three, said he believes life begins at conception. He advocates for the unborn and votes when he can to restrict access to abortion. He voted for a bill the House passed in October but went down in defeat in the Senate in January that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
“In the end, we have to change hearts,” Bacon said of eliminating abortion. “We’ve got to turn the hearts and minds of our citizenry. I will always stand on the part of life.”
That position is “180 degrees from my opponent,” Bacon said of Eastman.
Eastman, who with her husband, Scott, has a daughter in high school, has said she supports finding ways to reduce the number of abortions, such as providing affordable health care and child care, but she does not think government should place any restrictions on abortion.
“It’s really easy as legislators, as politicians, to say we’re going to compromise about a law,” she told the Omaha World-Herald Jan. 29, during her primary race against Ashford. “But the reality is, the people who are being compromised are women.”
The U.S. bishops argue that “the direct and intentional destruction of human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed” (FCFC, no. 28).
Eastman is touting her plan for universal health care, Medicare for All.
“Passing Medicare for All will mean the end of pharmaceutical companies price-gouging Americans who need prescription drugs,” she says on her campaign website. “It will mean that no one gets turned down or ripped off by a health insurance company for having a pre-existing condition. And it will mean that once and for all every American will have the health care they deserve.”
The U.S. bishops say “affordable health care is an essential safeguard of human life and a fundamental human right,” and it remains an urgent national priority (FCFC, no. 80).
But there is wide room for disagreement on specific public policies regarding health care – as well as such issues as education, gun control and immigration. For example, the bishops have supported measures to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid (FCFC, no. 80). They also state that such proposals can be backed or opposed based on well-informed prudential judgment (FCFC, no. 33).
Bacon said Eastman’s proposal would take away health care that people already receive through their employers to set up a single-payer, government-run system that over the years would cost trillions of dollars in extra spending.
“Seventy percent of the people like what they have,” Bacon said, adding that he prefers to work on helping the 30 percent who have concerns about their insurance coverage.
Bacon voted for a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with a system that would have provided more flexibility to states and expanded health savings accounts. The Congressional Budget Office also estimated that the proposal would increase the number of uninsured people by 23 million over 10 years, while decreasing the federal deficit. The proposal failed to gain enough support to pass Congress. Now, Bacon advocates smaller changes to improve health care insurance, such as creating pools to purchase coverage at better rates, while retaining protection for pre-existing conditions and continuing to allow young people to stay on their parent’s plan until age 26.
Eastman also is proposing a College for All Act that would eliminate tuition for families making under $125,000 a year at all four-year state colleges and universities, and make community colleges free.
“Student loan debt is crippling Americans,” Eastman says on her website. “We must challenge predatory lenders who profit off the backs of students struggling to escape debt. Instead, we have to support those working toward a college education.”
Bacon said providing free college education would be another costly endeavor for taxpayers. “It’s not free,” he said. “You talk with someone in their 40s or 50s, who are working hard, and they laugh at it.”
The proposal also limits accountability, Bacon said, because people tend to study harder if they are footing the bill. And having the government guide the money for college education could open the door to the government determining who gets an education based on merit, he said.
Both candidates back immigration reform, and creating a path to citizenship for people brought to the United States as children – positions consistent with those outlined by the U.S. bishops.
“The Gospel mandate to ‘welcome the stranger’ requires Catholics to care for and stand with newcomers, authorized and unauthorized, including unaccompanied immigrant children, refugees and asylum-seekers, those unnecessarily detained, and victims of human trafficking,” the bishops write (FCFC, no. 81).
Bacon said his constituents want to help young people brought to the United States by their parents without proper documentation and currently protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. People also back helping foreigners who are living in the United States under temporary protected status (TPS).
And more immigration judges are needed to handle the national backlog of cases, Bacon said. Border security also is important, including building walls in strategic areas between the United States and Mexico such as proposed by President Trump. Border security protects and promotes national security as well as legal immigration, he said.
But Congress has to pull together an agreement, Bacon said.
“The Democrats don’t want a single mile (of a wall),” he said. “If they want to get on the side of DACA and TPS, but place that in front of the president without his No. 1 priority, that isn’t going to work.”
Eastman told people at a public forum in Omaha in September that she would advocate for a DACA solution and creating a path to citizenship for people under TPS. Some immigrants granted temporary asylum under TPS have had children born in the United States who are U.S. citizens by birth.
“The fact that we have people here who are productive members of society and face the possibility of being separated from their children who are citizens of the United States is one of the most despicable things I can think of as a parent,” Eastman said, according to a
report from KETV in Omaha.
Both candidates back gun control measures, as does the Catholic Church, with the U.S. bishops supporting “reasonable restrictions on access to assault weapons and handguns” (FCFC, no. 84).
Eastman calls gun violence a “public health issue that touches all of us.” She is calling for universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons. Similar proposals have been backed by the U.S. bishops.
Bacon, on the other hand, said licensed dealers already must abide by background checks, and he wants to avoid requiring similar checks for private sales, such as a relative to a relative, or a neighbor to a neighbor. “That is going too far,” he said.
Felons should not be allowed to buy guns, and some legislative measures have tightened loopholes in that area, Bacon said.
But there are too many kinds of assault weapons to make banning any one of them effective, Bacon said. And if assault weapons such as semi-automatics are banned, he said, what might be next? Pistols, for example, are used in more killings than any other weapon, he said.
But the vast majority of gun users are not violent, Bacon said.
“I have a semi-automatic,” he said. “I don’t fire it a lot.”