This story is informed by BDN’s Citizens Agenda project, in which we asked you, our readers, to share your priorities, concerns and questions for the 2020 election. Read all stories in this project here.
AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Democrats will vote Tuesday in the presidential primary amid divides in the party on whether to push aggressive policy goals including Medicare for All and which of their eight candidates is best-suited to beat President Donald Trump.
The Bangor Daily News surveyed readers in January on the issues that matter to you most, with Democrats picking climate change and health care as their highest-priority issues. We reached out to some of those readers to craft this policy-focused guide to the presidential race.
What are the candidates’ health care proposals?
The candidates fall into two camps. The majority of the field supports adding a public option — essentially creating a government-run plan that all Americans would be able to buy into if they wanted. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard have supported versions of Medicare for All, which would replace the current employer-based private health insurance market with a government-run program.
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The issue has become a litmus test for national Democrats. An October poll found 78 percent support among likely Maine Democratic voters for a Medicare for All framework, though only 48.3 percent supported it strongly with 29.3 percent saying they “somewhat” supported it.
How would those proposals be paid for and how many would be covered?
Most Democrats have proposed paying for their plans through tax increases or cost-saving measures. They rely on assumptions of long-term trends in health care and candidates may be undercounting the costs while overpromising on revenue.
The Urban Institute estimated last year that Medicare for All would cost $34 trillion over 10 years. On the other side of the ledger, it said such a program would reduce spending by individuals, employers and lower-level governments by $27 trillion. The federal government would still have to find a way to pay for the whole program, though.
Warren’s plan relies on cost-saving measures and tax increases on the financial industry and billionaires. Sanders focuses on broader-based tax increases, running the gamut from a 4 percent tax on earners above $29,000, taxes on businesses and wealth over $32 million. Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and former Vice President Joe Biden propose public-option plans offset with tax increases and prescription drug savings initiatives.
An official with the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget tweeted on Monday that Sanders’ plan fell “well short” of paying for itself. That group has estimated Sanders’ plan would cost $13.4 trillion on net over 10 years, while Warren’s would cost $6.1 trillion. Both would cover 30 million to 35 million more people by the end of that decade.
The same group pegged the net cost of Biden’s plan at $800 billion while saying it would cover between 15 million and 20 million more. It said Buttigieg’s plan would save $450 billion on net over 10 years while covering 20 million to 30 million more people.
What about the opioid crisis?
Those plans and others on topics such as criminal justice reform could touch on the opioid crisis, but Warren, Klobuchar and Buttigieg have all put forward $100 million plans over 10 years that are either focused on it or addiction more generally. Each could have an outsized effect on Maine, which nearly doubled the national rate of opioid overdose deaths in 2017.
Most of the money in Warren’s plan would be sent to states, counties and cities. It would be used to expand access to treatment and ancillary services including housing and medical transportation. Sanders and high-profile Democrats signed onto that proposal in the Senate.
Klobuchar’s plan is broader, encompassing treatment with other initiatives including diversion, crisis intervention and prevention efforts that also focus on alcoholism. Buttigieg proposes a grant program that would be available to communities most affected by the opioid crisis. Bloomberg has a plan that does not include a dollar figure but calls for mandating insurance coverage of treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.
What are the candidates’ climate change proposals?
All the Democratic candidates support rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, but they are split on several other practical issues. Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Steyer favor pricing carbon emissions either through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system. Sanders and Gabbard oppose pricing carbon.
Warren has a “Blue New Deal” plan targeting the effects of climate change on the oceans, such as the Gulf of Maine, one of the fastest-warming bodies of water in the world. She calls for increased investment in offshore wind — something Maine Gov. Janet Mills is also pursuing — and rebuilding fisheries to adapt to climate change.
Where do they stand on the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico and tariffs?
Six candidates — Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Gabbard, Klobuchar and Warren — supported the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, which made changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement that has been blamed for job losses in Maine and other historic manufacturing job centers, though pro-business groups have argued trade supports roughly as many jobs.
All of the candidates have been critical of how the Trump administration has used tariffs, though they have given slightly different answers as to how their administration might place tariffs on foreign goods. Warren has called tariffs an “important tool.” Biden and Buttigieg have argued that tariffs are not an effective way to crack down on foreign countries.
What about campaign finance measures and other political reforms?
All candidates except Bloomberg — a billionaire who has funded his own campaign to the tune of $409 million through January — have called for overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 decision that opened up near-unlimited political spending.
A few candidates have also staked out other issues for reform. Warren has called to end the practice of giving ambassador positions to political donors. She and Gabbard have also called for a lifetime ban on lobbying by former members of Congress.
Klobuchar has sponsored a measure that would subject the sources of funding behind online political ads to more disclosure provisions. Sanders has called for replacing the Federal Election Commission with a stronger entity in order to better enforce campaign finance laws and create public financing for all federal elections — similar to the Maine Clean Election program.
Buttigieg, Sanders, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Warren have all called for replacing the Electoral College that decides presidential elections with a national popular vote. Klobuchar has said she is open to it. Biden and Bloomberg favor keeping the Electoral College as it is.