Sunday night's Democratic presidential debate in Charleston, S.C., saw some clashes between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton over their health care plans and the support Clinton has received from Wall Street, but it also highlighted the agreement between them -- and the third contender, Martin O'Malley -- on most key issues.
During the last Democratic debate before the Iowa caucus (February 1) and the New Hampshire primary (February 9), much of the contention was over the Clinton campaign's assertion that Sanders would dismantle the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. NBC's Andrea Mitchell, who moderated the debate along with Lester Holt, asked Clinton if that was a fair statement to make about Sanders's plan for universal, single-payer health care.
I certainly respect Senator Sanders's intentions, but when you'xe talking about health care, the details really matter," responded the former secretary of State, who has also been a U.S. senator from New York. "And therefore, we have been raising questions about the nine bills that he introduced over 20 years [as a U.S. representative and then senator from Vermont], as to how they would work and what would be the impact on people's health care." Sanders's plan -- he unveiled a new one today -- would amount to starting over, while the ACA is already in place, she said.
"We finally have a path to universal health care," she continued. "We have accomplished so much already. I do not to want see the Republicans repeal it, and I don't to want see us start over again with a contentious debate. I want us to defend and build on the Affordable Care Act and improve it."
Sanders replied, "What her campaign was saying -- Bernie Sanders, who has fought for universal health care for my entire life, he wants to end Medicare, end Medicaid, end the children's health insurance program -- that is nonsense. What a Medicare-for-all program does is finally provide in this country health care for every man, woman, and child as a right."
He helped write the ACA and voted for it, he said, but it has still left 29 million people uninsured and many more underinsured. His universal program might cost the middle class a bit more in taxes, but it would relieve them of paying health insurance premium, as there would be no role for private insurers in it.
O'Malley, the former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor, put in, "Instead of attacking one another on health care, we should be talking about the things that are actually working. In our state, we have moved to an 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 hit Clinton on the support she's received from large political action committees and major corporations, especially Wall Street investment firms. "Instead of being dependent on super PACs, what we need is to be dependent on small, individual campaign contributors," he said. "We need an agenda that speaks to the needs of working families and low-income people, not wealthy campaign contributors."
"Let me give you an example of how corrupt -- how corrupt this system is," he said later in the debate. Goldman Sachs recently fined $5 billion. Goldman Sachs has given this country two secretaries of treasury, one on the Republicans, one under Democrats [Hank Paulson and Robert Rubin]. The eader of Goldman Sachs is a billionaire who comes to Congress and tells us we should cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Secretary Clinton -- and you're not the only one, so I don't mean to just point the finger at you -- you've received over $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs in one year."
Clinton said there is "no daylight" between her and Sanders "on the basic premise that there should be no bank too big to fail and no individual too powerful to jail. We agree on that." But she said Sanders had also criticized President Obama for taking Wall Street contributions, yet Obama helped clean up the financial mess the nation was in when he came into office.
"I personally believe that President Obama's work to push through the Dodd-Frank [financial regulation] bill and then to sign it was one of the most important regulatory schemes we've had since the 1930s," she said. "So I'm going to defend Dodd-Frank and I'm going to defend President Obama for taking on Wall Street, taking on the financial industry and getting results."
Sanders and O'Malley said they would favor a new version of the now-repealed Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that regulated banking activities. Clinton said Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, former Congressman Barney Frank (one of the authors of Dodd-Frank), and others have endorsed her plans to build on the Dodd-Frank legislation.
"And I can tell you that the hedge fund billionaires who are running ads against me right now, and Karl Rove, who started running an ad against me right now, funded by money from the financial services sector ... I'm the one they don't want to be up against," she said. She further noted, "We're at least having a vigorous debate about reining in Wall Street."
The debate also featured questions submitted via YouTube. One of them came from 23-year-old video blogger Connor Franta, who happens to be gay; he noted that Sanders is extremely popular among young people and wondered what other candidates would do to appeal to this demographic.
Clinton replied, "I've laid out my ideas about what we can do to make college affordable; how we can help people pay off their student debts and save thousands of dollars, how we can create more good jobs because a lot of the young people that I talk with are pretty disappointed the economic prospects they feel their facing. So making community college free, making it possible to attend a public college or university with debt-free tuition, looking for ways to protect our rights especially from the concerted Republican assault on voting rights, on women's rights, on gay rights, on civil rights, on workers' rights. ... Turning over our White House to the Republicans would be bad for everybody, especially young people."
After Holt asked why Sanders is beating her two to one among young people, she added, "I have the greatest respect for Senator Sanders and for his supporters, and I'm going to keep working as hard as I can to reach as many people of all ages about what I will do, what the experience and the ideas that I have that I will bring to the White House and I hope to have their support when I'm the Democratic nominee."
Sanders was queried about his lack of support among African-Americans, who favor Clinton two to one. "When the African-American community becomes familiar with my congressional record and with our agenda, and with our views on the economy and criminal justice -- just as the general population has become more supportive, so will the African-American community, so will the Latino community. We have the momentum, we're on a path to a victory."
He also noted he's been gaining on Clinton in polls. "In terms of taking on my good friend Donald Trump, beating him by 19 points in New Hampshire, 13 points in the last national poll that we saw," Sanders said, with a Trump reference that was undoubtedly sarcastic.
The candidates generally denounced Trump for his anti-Muslim rhetoric and the Republican Party for denying climate change, and supported creating a coalition with other Middle Eastern countries to fight the terrorist group ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) without committing U.S. ground troops. They also supported addressing police violence by improving police-community relations in the nation's large cities, especially by diversifying police forces.
For more on the debate, see an annotated transcript here from The Washington Post.