Democratic debate: Missed it? 7 issues that highlighted differences

2020-03-16 | The Palm Beach Post

March 16--The first one-on-one debate between frontrunner Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders displayed significant fault lines between the last two men standing in a race that began with two dozen candidates last summer.

Seven issues that drew sharp distinctions:

1. Coronavirus: Former Vice President Biden said he would call out the military to boost the federal government's response to the public health crisis. For example, he said the military would be able to build mobile, 500-bed hospitals to offer treatment.

"We are at war with a virus," Biden said. "In a war you do everything you need to do."

Sanders, the Vermont U.S. senator, said he would call out the National Guard, as he said is taking place in New York, but did not offer specifics as what the military would do.

2. Medicare for All: In the previous 10 debates, which started in Miami last June, the single-payer, government run health insurance proposal has been the key fault line between progressives, like Sanders, and moderates, like Biden.

Sanders said the coronavirus exposed the gaps in health coverage and said Medicare for All would have better positioned the United States to deal with the public health emergency by eliminating costs.

The "dysfunction is obvious enormous loopholes, not covering for treatment," Sanders said of the current private insurance market. "Last year, at least 30,000 people died" because of lack of coverage, he said. "I consider that a crisis," Sanders added. "We need a simple system ... If you are an American you get the health care you need, it's as simple as that."

Biden reiterated his support for expanding Obamacare to cover the uninsured while leaving the private option for those who want it. He also had a pointed retort for Sanders' claim that Medicare for All would have helped Americans address Medicare for All pointing out that Italy has a government-managed system and that nation is on lock down.

3. Abortion. Sanders got Biden onstage to say he would support permitting Medicaid to pay for abortions for women enrolled in the program, something that Biden had not supported in the past. Biden then added he would support legislation to codify Roe v. Wade, and added he would also support a measure to ban ownership of weapons by someone who has "abused a woman."

4. The vice president. Biden said Sunday night he will nominate a woman as his running mate. And he would nominate the first African American woman ever to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Sanders said he would seek a woman as a running mate, too, but hedged suggesting his top priority would be to ask another progressive to join him on the ticket. He also said his Cabinet would be at least 50 percent female to reflect the population of the country.

5. Immigration. An issue that had disappeared from the debate stage came back.

Biden committed himself to no deportations of undocumented people in his first 100 days and thereafter just felons. He said he would send immigration judges to the border to clear out the backlog of cases. Then he would seek comprehensive immigration reform to create a path to citizenship for those in the country without documents now.

Sanders said he would end ICE raids, reject policies separating families and arrangements where local police turn over undocumented people they detail to federal authorities.

6. Climate change: Biden said he would restore auto mileage standards, support light rail construction and add 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles and end drilling for oil on federal lands.

"All well and good," Sanders said. "But nowhere near enough." Sanders said he plan goes much farther to end fracking, kill tax breaks and subsidies to energy producers and end the fossil fuel industry.

Biden said his plan is ambitious enough and pointed out his home state, Delaware, is at risk.

"My state is three feet above sea level,"he said. "I don't need a climate change lecture."

Fidel Castro. Yeah, this still came up.

Sanders defended his lauding the Castro revolution' literacy plan saying that while he condemned authoritarian governments it was fair game to recognize their achievements.

Biden said that Sanders was wrong to laud the Castro regime, as well as the Sandinistas, Communist China and the former Soviet Union.

"Words matter," he said. "These are flat out dictators."