Des Moines Register
By Jennifer Jacobs
May 8th, 2012
Those who know Bruce Braley well say one of his defining personality traits is doggedness. The former trial lawyer follows projects from start to finish, and staffers say he insists they do the same.
Braley’s name is bandied about as a future U.S. Senate candidate (to replace Democrat Tom Harkin if he chooses not to run again in 2014, or to replace Republican Chuck Grassley, who is up for re-election in 2016).
“I think Braley is a rising star in the Democratic Party,” said state Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield. “I believe he has shown some common sense in picking his fights. He doesn’t run off willy-nilly at the head.”
A panel of eight Iowa and Washington-based journalists organized by The Des Moines Register ranked Braley fourth in effectiveness out of Iowa’s seven congressmen. That placed the three-term Braley above two colleagues with more seniority in the House — Republican Steve King and Democrat Leonard Boswell — as well as Dave Loebsack, who was elected at the same time as Braley.
Braley got off to a fast start in proposing and steering passage of legislation during his first two terms, when Democrats were in power. That’s tougher this term, now that he’s in the minority.
One accomplishment that Braley points to when he was part of the majority is reforming the way Medicare pays Iowa doctors, who have historically seen lower payments from Medicare than doctors in larger states. Iowans in Congress had sought to change the formula for years. At 3 a.m. on a Saturday in 2010, after hours of negotiations with Democratic leaders over the health care reform law, he helped secure an agreement to change the payment structure.
His staff noted practical accomplishments to benefit his district. When the 2008 floods washed out a bridge over the Cedar River in Waterloo that the Iowa Northern short-line railroad company used to carry goods, the rail cars had to make a 300-mile detour. That increased costs for manufacturers and farmers. Braley successfully pushed for money to repair rail lines knocked out by natural disasters. The railroad bridge reopened in late 2009.
Braley is also into plain talk. Lawmakers have made numerous attempts over the years to require the government to write forms and documents in easy-to-understand language, but Braley’s bill, the Plain Writing Act, was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010.
He helped secure a tax credit for small businesses that hired unemployed workers. In Iowa, the credit assisted in the hiring of 104,000 people through the end of 2010, his aides said.
Braley ranks 87th in the lineup of the National Journal’s most liberal to least liberal members of the House. He is more liberal than 80 percent of the House on social issues and 84 percent on foreign issues, according to the Journal analysis of votes cast in 2011.
Braley, whose father fought on Iwo Jima, champions veterans issues, and he has a remarkably good working relationship with Republicans on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, congressional insiders said. For example, Braley and a freshman Republican from Indiana did two field hearings last fall, one in Iowa and one in Indiana, on unemployment among veterans.
To help disabled veterans retrofit their homes, Braley co-sponsored a bill to expand a grant program. He worked with U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to help win House approval of the Andrew Connolly Veterans Housing Act in 2011. The proposal is now stuck in the Senate.
Meanwhile, to keep in touch with Iowans, Braley does a conference call with Iowa reporters on Wednesday mornings and sent out 278 news releases in 2011. He has visited every county in the 1st District in the past 12 months.
“He just does everything that he could possibly do. He has been fantastic,” said Pat Sass, chairwoman of the Black Hawk County Democrats. “You couldn’t find anyone that’s more active.”