In their final debate before the Iowa caucuses, six candidates vying for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination provided a glimpse into policies that would directly affect the finances of American families.
Pocketbook issues were far from the only theme of the CNN/Des Moines Register presidential debate Tuesday night in Des Moines, the last time the Democratic contenders will face off before the Feb. 3 Iowa caucus.
Still, a good portion of the debate – which included former Vice President Joe Biden; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; and political activist Tom Steyer – centered on health care, college affordability and other issues that weigh heavily on the family budget.
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Democrats debate Medicare for All, Affordable Care Act in Iowa
The candidates sparred about the merits of a Medicare For All program versus building upon the Affordable Care Act.
Sanders said that one way to pay for his Medicare For All plan would be to impose "a 4% tax on income, exempting the first $29,000, so the average family in America that today makes $60,000 would pay $1,200 a year compared to that family paying $12,000 a year.''
Families will also save money because they will no longer have to pay the various fees that come up when they need to see the doctor. "It ends all premiums,'' he said. "It ends all co-payments. It ends the absurdity of deductibles. It ends out-of-pocket expenses.''
Meanwhile, Warren said she would use the powers of the presidency to bring down the costs of medicine, and middle-class families wouldn't be required to foot the bill.
"Thirty-six million people last year went to the doctor to get a prescription ... and they couldn't afford to have the prescription filled,'' she said. "I have worked out a plan where we can do that without raising taxes on middle-class families by one thin dime.''
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Using presidential powers, "On the first day, we can cut the cost of prescription drugs,'' she said. "I'll use the power that's already given to the president to reduce the cost of insulin and epipens and HIV/AIDS drugs ... And I will defend the Affordable Care Act.''
Buttigieg argued for options: “You don’t have to be in my plan if there’s another plan that you would rather keep,'' he said. "There's no need to kick Americans off the plans that they want in order to deliver Medicare for All.''
He said his proposal would cost $1.5 trillion over a decade, and he proposed paying for it in part by negotiating prescription drug prices as well as getting rid of the corporate tax cuts passed by the Trump administration "that went to corporations and the wealthy that didn't even need it.''
Additionally, Buttigieg proposed a $250 out-of-pocket monthly cap for prescription drugs.
Klobuchar made her own pitch to fix the country's health care system.
“The answer is a non-profit public option,'' she said. "It is a big, big step to say to people making $100,000 a year that your premiums will be cut in half, which is what the nonprofit public option will do.’’
Additionally, Klobuchar said she had a plan to help people afford treatment for addiction and mental health issues and pushed for improvements to long-term care insurance.
Biden, who worked with President Barack Obama to pass the ACA, agreed with Klobuchar that some of the other candidates' proposals were not realistic.
Instead, Biden said he wanted to "take Obamacare, reinstate, rebuild it, provide a public option, allow Medicare for those folks who want it,'' Biden said, adding that there also needs to be a process to cut drug costs. "That costs $740 billion over 10 years.''
Steyer agreed that the nation's health care system needed repair but gave few details on how he would do it.
“Everybody on this stage knows that Americans are paying twice as much for health care as any other advanced country in the world,'' he said. "We should move and develop the Affordable Care Act with a public option.''
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All six candidates agreed that parents need help paying for child care.
“It makes no sense for child care to cost two-thirds of somebody’s income," Buttigieg said. "We've got to drive it to 7% or below and zero for those families who are living in poverty. But this is happening to folks at every level of the income spectrum.''
Warren was for universal child care, though she said some people might have to make a small payment.
"I have a 2-cent wealth tax so that we can cover child care for all of our children and provide universal Pre-K for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old in America and stop exploiting the people who do this valuable work,'' she said.
In addition to tripling the amount of money directed to schools to make sure every 3-, 4- and 5-year old is able to attend classes and after-school programs, Biden said he would “have an $8,000 tax credit'' that could enable 7 million women to return to work and make sure their children are looked after. He also supported giving assistance to parents too poor to afford infant care.
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Buttigieg was for free college, but not for everyone.
“For the first 80% of Americans by income, it is free at public colleges,'' he said of his plan. "But if you're in that top income bracket … I just need you to go ahead and pay that tuition, because we could be using those dollars for something else.’’
And Warren once again brought up her wealth tax as a source of funding. "We need to ask people with fortunes above 50 million to pay more,'' she said.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Democratic debate: Candidates talk health care, child care in Iowa