Ten of the Democratic presidential candidates gathered in Detroit on Tuesday for the second debate, clashing on topics like health care, immigration and climate change. Here are some of the key areas that sparked the biggest disagreements.
1. HEALTH CARE
The health care debate within the debate centered on whether to pursue a single-payer Medicare For All system favored by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., or an alternative that preserves competing private plans.
The more moderate candidates made the case that Americans wanted to have a choice of private insurance, with some like Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and former Rep. John Delaney mentioning unions that had negotiated specific plans.
“We should deal with the tragedy of the uninsured and give everyone health care as a right but why do we got to be the party of taking something away from people?” Delaney asked.
Sanders and Warren argued that the private insurance industry added overhead costs and paperwork without providing benefits in return. “We’ve tried this experiment with the insurance companies and what they have done is suck billions of dollars out of the system,” Warren said.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke positioned himself as a middle path, saying his plan to auto-enroll the uninsured in a Medicare plan while also preserving employer insurance would guarantee universal coverage. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg suggested his version of a public option would “become Medicare for All without us having to kick anybody off their insurance” because the public would prefer it to “corporate options.”
The candidates also split over how they would finance their plans. O’Rourke said “the middle class will not pay more in taxes.” Warren would not make the same commitment, instead promising their “total costs will go down.” Buttiigeig said the debate was misleading and that paying taxes or premiums was “a distinction without a difference.”
Similar to the first Democratic debate last month, the disagreement on immigration centered on a proposal put forward by former HUD Secretary Julian Castro that would make illegally crossing the border a civil rather than criminal offense.
Warren argued it would remove a legal basis for President Donald Trump to prosecute parents of children crossing the border and consequently separate families. “We need to continue to have border security and we can do that, but what we can’t do is not live our values,” she said.
Others, like Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, argued that the law, which has been on the books since 1929, was not the core issue. “The challenge isn’t that it’s a criminal offense to cross the border, the challenge is that Donald Trump is president and using this to rip families apart,” he said.
O’Rourke said he would break from Trump on how to handle immigration, but added, “I expect that people who come here follow our laws and we reserve the right to criminally prosecute them if they do not.”
Sanders, who has said he would apply his health care plan to undocumented immigrants, defended himself from criticism by Bullock and Ryan that it would create an incentive for further illegal immigration. He said he would “”ave strong border protections,” but added that he considered health care “a human right that applies to all people in this country.”
3. CLIMATE CHANGE
The candidates agreed that they needed significant government action to confront climate change, but differed over the particulars of the Green New Deal, a resolution put forward by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., calling for a rapid shift to renewable energy.
Delaney, whose own climate plan centers on a carbon tax, complained that the Green New Deal “ties its progress to other things that are completely unrelated” like a call for guaranteed jobs. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper raised the issue as well, saying it would be “a disaster at the ballot box.”
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In practice, candidates supporting the Green New Deal have released plans focused more narrowly on climate issues. This prompted Warren, who touted a $2 trillion plan to build up the renewable energy industry, to accuse her rivals of manufacturing a divide that doesn’t exist.
“This could revitalize huge cities across this country and no one wants to talk about it,” Warren said. “What you want to do instead is find the Republican talking point…say we don’t really have to do anything.”
Candidates named a variety of possible approaches, each with different emphases. Ryan focused on agricultural sustainability and creating incentives for companies to develop and deploy new technology. Sanders stressed taking on fossil fuel companies. Bullock criticized Democrats for not reassuring “folks who have spent their whole life powering our country” in the energy industry that they’d be taken care of in the transition.
4. STUDENT DEBT, FREE COLLEGE
The candidates split over proposals by Sanders and Warren to offer tuition-free public college to all Americans and to cancel existing student debt.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she would make it easier to refinance student debt and expand loan forgiveness programs, but “my problem with some of these plans is they literally would pay for wealthy kids, for Wall Street kids to go to college” rather than focus their benefits on lower incomes.
Buttigieg said Warren’s student debt proposal, a one-time cancellation of up to $50,000 of debt for Americans making under $250,000, would leave subsequent students “wondering why they weren’t lucky enough” to qualify for the same thing.
O’Rourke said he favored making only two-year associate degrees free, including aid for room and board, while expanding loan forgiveness programs for teachers.
Perhaps the most spirited defense of free college and student debt cancellation came from self-help author Marianne Williamson, who argued it would free up consumer spending. “The best thing you can do to stimulate this economy is get rid of this debt,” she said. Warren, for her part, argued her plan would help close the racial wealth gap.
5. SLAVERY REPARATIONS
Williamson drew applause with an impassioned call for reparations, referring to a “$200 to $500 billion payment of a debt that is owed” from the government’s failure to provide 40 acres and a mule to freed slaves and protect their rights over the next century.
Sanders, who has opposed the concept of cash reparations, said he supported researching the broader issue. But rather than Williamson’s targeted approach, he name-checked a race-neutral “10-20-30” bill by Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., that would dedicate at least 10 percent of federal spending to areas where 20 percent of the population has been impoverished for over 30 years.
He also mentioned his “Thurgood Marshall plan” to encourage school districts to desegregate and boost education funding in poor areas.