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Fair Pay and Healthcare: 4 Takeaways From the 4th Democratic Debate


Watching the latest Democratic debate less than a week after the Republican debate, you’re immediately struck by the differences between the two parties’ events at this stage of the election cycle. It’s not just the unsurprising fact that conservatives and liberals disagree on the major issues; it’s that the Democrats, who have only three candidates vying for the nomination, have enough time to get into (slightly) more in-depth discussions about their proposals. Barring that, they’ve at least got more room, both metaphorically and physically on the stage, to argue with one another.

bernie sanders

(Photo Credit: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaking at a town meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona, Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

These are a few of the highlights related to Career News topics like the economy and jobs:

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What the Candidates Would Do in Their First 100 Days

The debate began with opening statements from each candidate, and then a question, from moderator Lester Holt of NBC News, about what each candidate would do during his or her first 100 days in office.

“President Obama came to office determined to swing for the fences on healthcare reform,” Holt said. “Voters want to know how you would define your presidency? How would you think big? So complete this sentence: in my first 100 days in office, my top three priorities will be – fill in the blank.”

Senator Bernie Sanders said, “Well, that’s what our campaign is about. It is thinking big. It is understanding that in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, we should have healthcare for every man, woman, and child as a right that we should raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour; that we have got to create millions of decent-paying jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.”

Secretary Hillary Clinton’s reply began with more specifics.

“I would work quickly to present to the Congress my plans for creating more good jobs in manufacturing, infrastructure, clean and renewable energy, raising the minimum wage, and guaranteeing, finally, equal pay for women’s work,” she said.

Second, she said, she would present plans to “build on the Affordable Care Act and to improve it by decreasing the out-of-pocket costs by putting a cap on prescription drug costs…” and third, “I would be working, in every way that I knew, to bring our country together. We do have too much division, too much meanspiritedness. There’s a lot we have to do on immigration reform, on voting rights, on campaign finance reform, but we need to do it together. That’s how we’ll have the kind of country for the 21st century that we know will guarantee our children and grandchildren the kind of future they deserve.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley tackled wages as well, and talked about the need to protect unions.

“First of all, I would lay out an agenda to make wages go up again for all Americans, rather than down,” he said. “Equal pay for equal work, making it easier rather than harder for people to join labor unions and bargain collectively for better wages; getting 11 million of our neighbors out of the underground shadow economy by passing comprehensive immigration reform, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, however we can, wherever we can.”

O’Malley also declared climate change “the greatest business opportunity to come to the United States of America in 100 years” and proposed a plan to “move us to a 100 percent clean electric energy grid by 2050 and create 5 million jobs along the way.”

Lastly, he proposed “a new agenda for America’s cities. We have not had a new agenda for America’s cities since Jimmy Carter. We need a new agenda for American cities that will invest in the talents and skills in our people, that will invest in CBVG transportation, infrastructure and transit options, and make our cities the leading edge in this move to a redesigned built clean green energy future that will employ our people.”

Black Lives Matter and Pay Inequity

Media discussion on the Black Lives Matter movement often focuses, for good reason, on police brutality and mass incarceration, but last night’s debate reminds us that there’s another issuing face African-Americans: pay inequity. While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate in hiring or pay based on race, black and Hispanic workers still earn less than white and Asian workers.

“We have a criminal justice system which is broken,” Sanders said. “Who in America is satisfied that we have more people in jail than any other country on Earth, including China? Disproportionately African-American and Latino. Who is satisfied that 51 percent of African-American young people are either unemployed, or underemployed? Who is satisfied that millions of people have police records for possessing marijuana when the CEO’s of Wall Street companies who destroyed our economy have no police records. We need to take a very hard look at our … criminal justice system, investing in jobs, and education not in jails and incarceration.”

The Future of Healthcare

In 2013, medical bills were the No. 1 cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S. While it’s too early to say whether Obamacare will reduce medical bankruptcies in the long run, the candidates agree that working people still absorb too much of the cost of access to healthcare. That’s about all they agree on, with regards to the best healthcare plan for the nation.

In short, here’s where each stands on the future of Obamacare:

  • Clinton wants to keep Obamacare, “defend and build on the Affordable Care Act and improve it.”
  • Sanders, who introduced his own healthcare plan prior to the debate, proposes to “provide healthcare to all people, get private insurance out of health insurance, lower the cost of healthcare for middle class families by 5,000 bucks.” Later, while disputing Clinton’s claim that he wanted to tear up Obamacare, Sanders added: “…29 million still have no health insurance, that even more are underinsured with huge copayments and deductibles.”
  • O’Malley expressed a desire to talk “about the things that are actually working” and brought up Maryland’s all-payer system: “With the Affordable Care Act, we now have moved all of our acute care hospitals, that driver of cost at the center, away from fee-for-service. And actually to pay, we pay them based on how well they keep patients out of the hospital. How well they keep their patients. That’s the future. We need to build on the Affordable Care Act, do the things that work, and reduce costs and increase access.”

Sanders also responded to criticism from Clinton that his plan would raise taxes not only on the rich but also the middle class.

“Secretary Clinton does know a lot about healthcare, and she understands, I believe, that a Medicare for all, single-payer program will substantially lower the cost of healthcare for middle-class families,” he said. “So, what we have got to acknowledge, and I hope the secretary does, is we are doing away with private health insurance premiums. So, if I save you $10,000 in private health insurance, and you pay a little bit more in taxes in total, there are huge savings in what your family is spending.”

Free Tuition

Sanders’ free tuition plan didn’t get much airtime last night among all the other issues under discussion, but he did get a chance, briefly to remind voters about it, saying, “I want every kid in this country who has the ability to be able to go to a public college, or university, tuition-free. And, by the way, I want to substantially lower student debt interest rates in this country as well.”

He’d pay for his plan, he said, with “a tax on Wall Street speculation. This country, and the middle class, bailed out Wall Street. Now, it is Wall Street’s time to help the middle class.”

Critics have questioned whether Sanders’ plan would generate enough money to cover its costs. For example, last year, Slate‘s Jordan Weissmann, who is otherwise positive about the plan, pointed out that it “might not actually provide enough money to accomplish all of the things he wants it to.”

“The $70 billion figure the senator bases his funding scheme on doesn’t include the financial aid that schools currently give to students. Since the legislation forces schools to eliminate tuition entirely, while using those aid dollars to help students cover things like rent and textbooks, institutions would probably be left with a budget hole,” he wrote.

But even the more sparsely occupied Democratic debates don’t offer enough time to get into the details. For that, voters will have to dig into the candidates’ plans on their own time – hopefully, sometime before heading to the polls.

For more on the debate, see The Washington Post‘s interactive transcript.

Tell Us What You Think

Which candidate won this debate, in your opinion? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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Darryl Johnston
Darryl Johnston

I believe Hillary Clinton won this debate with the issues all Americans are concerned with. The economy, health care, equality in pay. Mr. Bernie Sanders did bring out good points about race relations and the police force and pay inequality in America but Hillary Clinton also touched upon these issues in her campaign. How she would help resolves these issues.

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