- JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
- At the second primary debates of the 2020 presidential race on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, 20 Democratic candidates will be making their case for voters to send them to the White House.
- Issues such as health care and climate change are energizing the Democratic electorate.
- The Democratic primary is full of policy plans that could fundamentally change American life. Here are eight issues that the 2020 candidates mostly agree on and where divides emerge.
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At the second Democratic primary debates of the 2020 presidential race on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, 20 candidates will be making their case for voters to send them to the White House. For many of them, it represents their last opportunity to break out of a crowded primary field before the September debates, which have much stricter qualifications to make it on stage.
Issues like health care and climate change are energizing the Democratic electorate, but not every candidate shares the same approach to policy-making.
Some candidates, like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are running as crusaders for the middle and working classes who will tackle inequality with bold action. Others, like former Vice President Joe Biden, are promising to restore a sense of normalcy and bipartisanship in Washington before its politics was upended by President Donald Trump. Most fall somewhere in between and are maneuvering for support from the progressive and centrist wings of the party.
Here are eight issues that the 2020 candidates mostly agree upon, and where the dividing lines emerge.
Mostly agree: Many of the candidates favor reforming the American health care system to varying degrees, which is criticized as costly and inefficient. And they back expanding health care coverage to more Americans and improving on the Affordable Care Act, which allows Americans to purchase federally subsidized health insurance via health exchanges.
The divide: Democrats are split on the mechanisms to achieve universal health coverage.
Sanders and Warren support “Medicare for All,” a proposal to create a government-run insurance program funded by taxpayers that would virtually eliminate private health insurance and enroll every American. The Sanders plan envisions Medicare for All in place within four years.
But many candidates prefer less sweeping changes.
Biden backs a public option, as do Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke. That course would allow Americans to choose between private coverage and a government health program.
Biden’s healthcare plan is centered on substantially improving on the healthcare system that’s already in place. It would inject massive new federal subsidies to shore up the insurance marketplaces of the ACA and expand Medicaid in states that rejected it during the Obama administration. The plan would be paid for by rolling back some of the Trump tax cuts.
Biden argues it’s the best way to lower medical costs while keeping people on their private coverage – in essence, not abruptly shocking the system. But policy experts also say it would keep inefficiencies in the healthcare system largely in place.
Kamala Harris is charting her own lane in healthcare. She wants to expand Medicare with the aid of private insurers to achieve universal healthcare, a plan that drew criticism from Sanders for keeping a strong role for private insurers. Her proposal phases in such a system within ten years.
Other candidates have yet to put forward detailed proposals on the plans and cost to taxpayers.
Mostly agree: The Democratic candidates favor taking steps to preserve the environment and taking action to alleviate the worst effects of climate change.
Most candidates back the “Green New Deal,” a sweeping plan that would transition the American economy from fossil fuels to clean energy and curb greenhouse gas emissions.
And 18 of them have signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, promising to not seek financial support from the oil, coal and gas industries. Fifteen candidates also support having a climate change debate.
The divide: The devil is in the policy details.
Few taking the primary stage have the ambition of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who has centered his campaign on fighting climate change and rolled out policy proposals to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2030, a decade-long $9 trillion investment plan, and phasing out fossil fuels.
That hasn’t stopped other Democrats from trying to match Inslee. Warren bills her “green manufacturing plan” as a $2 trillion investment in climate-friendly industries that would boost American manufacturing and promote job creation.
O’Rourke has also released a climate plan with an eventual $5 trillion price tag that sets a legally-binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Biden released a similar plan pegged to the 2050 deadline, calling for $1.7 trillion in federal spending, a carbon pollution tax, and job training for workers to readjust in a greener economy. Sens. Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Buttigieg have not issued climate proposals.
Mostly agree: Most Democratic candidates support alleviating income inequality. Raising minimum wages to $15 an hour and reducing unemployment are also areas where there is plenty of agreement.
The divide: Depending on the issue and their worldview, candidates diverge on the extent of government intervention into the economy and how to pay for their proposals.
Warren has released plans to increase access to affordable housing and ensure universal child care, paid for by a tax on corporations and the assets of the wealthy.
Both Warren and Sanders have relied on such taxes on the rich to pay for their expensive proposals, with both putting forward plans to drastically reduce people’s student debt.
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper supports giving small businesses in rural areas tax credits to foster development and mobilizing private industry in the process. Harris also has a plan to close the gender wage gap by mandating large companies to certify that male and female employees are paid equally.
- AFP/Jim Watson via Getty Images
Mostly agree: The candidates are united in blasting the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
Family separations at the US-Mexico border have drawn condemnation from the candidates, and many say their administrations would also reverse Trump’s actions drastically limiting refugee resettlement.
Many also support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States and do not back the construction of a wall on the nation’s southern border with Mexico.
The divide: It’s still not clear how many candidates would achieve immigration reform – especially if Republicans hold one or both chambers of Congress after next year’s election.
The primary field has been thin on immigration plans, instead advancing a more welcoming and diverse vision of the nation through a broad theme over specifics.
Criminal justice reform
Mostly agree: Most of the candidates support legalizing marijuana, reversing the era of mass incarceration and policing reforms that would empower communities by creating avenues for more transparency from law enforcement. Many also support ending capital punishment.
The divide: Differences emerge in focus and approach to reforming the judicial system and policing.
Gillibrand has talked about “the unique challenges” the criminal justice system poses for women. She is seeking more protection for incarcerated pregnant women and creating prison alternatives for those convicted of low-level nonviolent crimes.
Booker supports shortening prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. And he’s proposed granting clemency to thousands of people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. Buttigieg would do the same for similar offenders by getting rid of mandatory minimums.
Castro issued a plan that would mandate implicit bias training and the use of body cameras for police officers. He also backs drastically restricting the instances lethal force can be used.
- Andrew Kelly/Reuters
Mostly agree: Plenty of the Democratic candidates for president support H.R. 40, a House resolution that would establish a committee to study reparations for the descendants of slaves.
They’ve expressed concern over the racial wealth gap, which shows the median white household has 10 times more wealth than the median black household.
The divide: How reparations would be provided remains a point of contention, as some candidates like O’Rourke and Klobuchar do not favor direct cash payments. But Marianne Williamson has called to set aside $200 billion to $500 billion for a reparations program.
Other candidates have also proposed race-conscious policies that explicitly address racial inequality. Warren has a plan to level the economic field for minority-owned businesses and another to create a housing program to benefit communities affected by redlining, a form of housing discrimination once practiced by the federal government.
Sanders, on the other hand, argues that broadly helping the poor will address longstanding racial inequality. He backs the 10-20-30 antipoverty plan. It’s congressional legislation that would direct 10 percent federal resources to communities where at least 20 percent of the population have lived under the poverty line for 30 years.
Booker has a proposal for “baby bonds” that would provide a $1,000 savings account for every child. But it would benefit people of color in particular as the plan gives more to families with lesser incomes.
Mostly agree: Most candidates want to improve global opinion of America, which has plunged during the Trump presidency.
For Democrats, that means recommitting the country to its international obligations such as its ties to NATO and the European Union and to reverse Trump’s “America First” policies and rhetoric. Many have also called to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, now well into its 18th year.
The divide: Though it hasn’t been a frequent topic of discussion, foreign policy is an area where candidates are diverging over how to use American power.
Biden and Buttigieg are two candidates seeking to promote free trade and liberal democracy, two notions that underpin the traditional international order.
Sanders, however, believes the existing liberal order has failed. Alongside Warren, he is seeking to readjust the global economic model that he believes failed the working classes in other nations.
Rep. John Delaney has possibly been the most specific in his foreign policy ideas so far in the race. He supports maintaining US military preeminence, increasing the nation’s global engagement with allies and a tough approach with China.
- SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Mostly Agree: With 45 million Americans collectively owing more over $1.6 trillion in student debt – overtaking credit cards and car loans as the largest share of debt Americans owe – the candidates largely agree on the need to reduce the debt load for Americans.
They’ve also come to agree that spiraling college costs must be contained either in some form, whether tuition-free or debt-free college. And most Democrats have called to fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, a federal benefit that aims to cancel the debt of borrowers working in public-service jobs after ten years.
The dividing line: How much reform should be undertaken and who pays for it are sticking points so far.
When it comes to student debt, Sanders has put out the most ambitious plan in the field. He’s calling to cancel the debt of every American while also making public higher education tuition-free. It would impose taxes on Wall Street transactions the campaign said would generate $2 trillion to cover its cost, but some policy experts said it was optimistic.
Warren proposed a similar plan for tuition-free college, but it capped student debt forgiveness at $50,000 for borrowers earning less than $100,000. Her plan was also centered on a Wall Street tax.