Fact-check: Democratic debate from Houston
Welcome to CNN’s fact check of the third Democratic presidential primary debate. We will be posting our checks of candidates’ claims as we complete them.
This debate, in Houston, features the 10 candidates who met polling and fundraising thresholds set by the Democratic National Committee.
It comes as former Vice President Joe Biden and his rivals — including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — have sharpened their criticism of one another’s campaign themes. This debate featured heated moments over health care, criminal justice and immigration, among other topics. The two previous debates (fact checks here and here) have also included lengthy exchanges on health care.
The debate also features South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, businessman Andrew Yang, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.
Here are the facts.
How many people would be covered under Biden’s health care plan
Castro attacked Biden’s health care plan, saying “the problem with your plan is that it leaves 10 million uncovered.”
Facts First: Castro is right.
It’s not the first time a Democratic contender has criticized Biden’s plan. Harris made an issue of it on the debate stage in Detroit.
Biden’s proposal — which builds on the Affordable Care Act by creating a government-backed health insurance option and increasing Obamacare’s federal subsidies — would insure more than an estimated 97% of Americans, according to his plan.
That means out of the population of 327 million in the country, roughly 10 million would be left without any health insurance.
However, it’s unclear exactly who would be uninsured. But under Biden’s plan, families buying coverage on the Obamacare exchanges would spend no more than 8.5% of their income on health insurance — a sum that might be too pricey for some Americans.
Castro’s attack on Biden over his health care claims
Castro attacked former Biden for saying that people would be automatically enrolled in his health care plan, which calls for creating a government-backed insurance option.
Facts first: Castro, who supports a universal “Medicare for All” program, is partly correct. Biden’s plan would require most individuals to sign up — or buy in — though it would automatically cover low-income Americans for free.
Castro supports “Medicare for All,” where all citizens would be enrolled in a plan run by the federal government. Biden’s plan, on the other hand, would only automatically enroll those who qualify for Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor.
Biden initially said, “Look, everybody says we want an option. The option I’m proposing is Medicare for all — Medicare for choice. If you want Medicare, if you lose the job from your insurance, from your employer, you automatically can buy into this. You don’t have, no pre-existing condition can stop you from buying in. You get covered, period.”
Castro responded: “But the difference between what I support and what you support, Vice President Biden, is that you require them to opt in and I would not require them to opt in. They would automatically be enrolled. They wouldn’t have a buy in.”
Then, Biden responded: “They do not have to buy in. They do not have to buy in.”
Castro replied: “You just said that. You just said that two minutes ago. You just two minutes ago that they would have to buy in.”
Biden then clarified that he’s only talking about those who can’t afford to buy-in — people who get Medicaid.
BIDEN: Do not have to buy in if you can’t afford it.
CASTRO: You said they would have to buy in.
BIDEN: Your grandmother would not have to buy in. If she qualifies for Medicaid, she would automatically be enrolled.
CASTRO: Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago? Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago? I mean, I can’t believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in and now you’re saying they don’t have to buy in. You’re forgetting that.
-Ellie Kaufman, Greg Krieg and Tami Luhby
The future of private health insurance
Klobuchar went after Sanders’ defense of his Medicare for All bill, attempting to turn his signature line of “I wrote the damn bill’ into a one-liner of her own.
“And while Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill. And on page 8 — on page 8 of the bill, it says that we will no longer have private insurance as we know it. And that means that 149 million Americans will no longer be able to have their current insurance.”
Facts First: This is true according to one estimate by a prominent health care research center.
On page 8 of the legislation Klobuchar references — S.1129, the Medicare for All Act of 2019 — there is a provision that stipulates it would be unlawful under the plan for “a private health insurer to sell health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under this Act.” The bill also bans employer-provided coverage on the same page.
However, different organizations have different estimates for how many Americans have private insurance, and who therefore would be at risk of losing it under a Medicare for All plan. Klobuchar cites a number backed by a 2014 survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a national nonpartisan nonprofit. That survey indicated that 149 million non-elderly people had employer-sponsored coverage.
While some Republicans and Democrats have cited the higher figure, the US Census Bureau estimated that in 2017, more than 181 million people had employment-based health insurance.
-Sarah Westwood and Caroline Kelly
US health care spending vs. other wealthy countries
Sanders repeated a claim he’s often made on the amount of money the US spends on health care.
“We are spending twice as much per capita on health care as the Canadians or any other major country on Earth,” Sanders said.
Facts First: Sanders is right about Canada. While there’s no universal definition of “major country,” so there’s some subjectivity here, it’s not true that the US spends twice as much per capita on health care as every other country in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, a group of 36 wealthy countries around the world.
At $10,586 per capita in 2018, the US did spend more than twice as much as Canada ($4,974) and more than twice as much as the OECD average ($3,992) in 2018 — but Switzerland ($7,317), Norway ($6,187) and Germany ($5,986) all were substantially above half the US level; Sweden ($5,447), Austria ($5,395) and Denmark ($5,299) were also above half, though more slightly.
You can read a longer version of this fact check here. Sanders has been repeating this same exaggeration since at least 2009, when fact-checkers at PolitiFact first noted that it wasn’t true.
Warren argued that her proposed wealth tax would cover her plans for universal Pre-K and child care.
“I have proposed a two-cent wealth tax on the top one-tenth of one percent in this country,” she said. “That would give us enough money to start with our babies by providing universal child care for every baby age 0 to 5, universal pre-k for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old in this country.”
Facts First: According to some studies of Warren’s wealth tax plan, it would certainly cover her universal Pre-K and universal child care plan, and she has said at other times it would also cover her plan for free public college. But some experts estimate that the wealth tax would bring in far less revenue than Warren estimates.
Warren’s proposed wealth levy would be a 2% tax on Americans with a net worth exceeding $50 million, with an additional 1% levy on billionaires. This would affect some 75,000 households, according to a study from two economics professors at the University of Berkeley, cited by Warren’s campaign. Even though we can’t know for sure how much Warren’s wealth tax plan will raise, these two economists who reviewed the proposal for the Warren campaign estimate it could bring in $2.75 trillion over 10 years.
Would this high estimate of $2.75 trillion over 10 years cover Warren’s universal child care plan? Based on some estimates, yes — easily.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics who authored a study — which was commissioned but not paid for by the Warren campaign — on Warren’s universal child care told CNN the plan would cost $700 billion over 10 years after accounting for the boost it would provide the economy. (Her universal child care plan would provide free child care for families with incomes below 200% of the poverty level and reduce child care costs by 17%, according to an analysis of the plan from CNN.)
Again, Warren has also suggested that the wealth tax would cover free public college on top of the universal child care program, which could cost some $1.25 trillion over 10 years.
There are some potential issues that such a wealth tax might run into, including legality. As CNN’s Facts First team has previously noted, some experts have calculated that Warren’s wealth tax would only bring in, at most, 40% of estimates Warren has cited. Warren’s plan would likely receive legal pushback as well. The 16th Amendment states that Congress can “lay and collect taxes on income,” not wealth. Unlike the gift and estate tax, Warren’s plan would be taxing the actual wealth — a problem which would likely reach the Supreme Court if the tax went into effect.
–Holmes Lybrand and Anneken Tappe
Family separations at the border
In a discussion of immigration policy, Biden said: “We didn’t lock people up in cages, we didn’t separate families.”
Facts first: Both of Biden’s claims are false. While the Obama administration didn’t systematically separate families, it did happen under certain circumstances.
Separations did sometimes occur under Obama, but they were non-routine and much less frequent, according to immigration experts and former Obama officials.
They occurred in exceptional cases. Examples include those where the parent was being criminally prosecuted for carrying drugs across the border or other serious crimes aside from illegal crossing, those where human trafficking was suspected and those where the authorities could not confirm the connection between the child and the adult.
The separations didn’t happen as a result of a blanket policy, however, as was the case during the Trump administration’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy last year.
Similarly, fenced enclosures at processing facilities along the border, the structures that have been labeled as cages, existed under the Obama administration. Some individuals — including children — were held in those cells during processing.
Trump’s tariffs are costing jobs
Klobuchar said that Trump’s trade war is costing American jobs. “One forecast recently says that it has already cost us 300,000 jobs,” she said.
Facts First: This is true according to one major economic analysis. A September report from Moody’s Analytics estimates that Trump’s trade war with China has cost “almost 300,000 jobs” since it started about a year ago.
It’s tricky to calculate exactly how many jobs have been lost because of Trump’s tariffs on Chinese-made goods. One reason the trade war could be hurting American jobs is because Trump’s tariff strategy has created a lot of uncertainty for businesses. They don’t know how long the tariffs will be in place or whether the rate of the tariff will go up as part of a negotiating strategy — making it hard to make investments and hire new workers.
But the Moody’s report isn’t the only one that suggests the duties are having an effect on US workers. A report from staffing firm Challenger, Gray <><><><><><><> <><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><> <><><><><><><><><><><><><& Christmas/a said that trade difficulties were cited as the reason for more than 10,000 job cuts in August alone./ppem -Katie Lobosco /em/ppNRA member support for gun control measures/ppBiden claimed that gun control measures put forward by the Obama administration had a majority of support from NRA members./pp"Those proposals I put forward for the President had over 50% of gun -- members of the NRA supporting them," he said./ppstrongFacts First:/strong According to one poll, a majority of NRA members did support some gun control measures proposed by the Obama administration, but not all./ppIn a 2013 poll conducted by Johns Hopkins University, 74% of people who identified as NRA members supported universal background checks, which the Obama administration proposed following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook./ppA majority -- 62 percent -- of this cohort "supported prohibiting gun ownership for 10 years after a person has been convicted of violating a domestic-violence restraining order," a href="https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1300512" target="_blank"according to the poll/a. And 70 percent supported increasing penalties for individuals who sell a gun to someone who is not allowed to own a gun./ppAs part of its proposals following Sandy Hook, the Obama administration a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obama-unveils-gun-control-proposals/2013/01/16/58cd70ce-5fed-11e2-9940-6fc488f3fecd_story.html" target="_blank"proposed a ban on so-called assault weapons and high capacity magazines/a (those that hold more than ten bullets). Only 15% of NRA members supported the ban of so-called assault weapons and 19% supported the banning of sales of high capacity magazines, according to the JHU poll./ppem-Holmes Lybrand/em/ppEnvironmental cleanup in Los Angeles /ppIn discussing air pollution, Harris brought up the progress Los Angeles has made in cleaning up its air./pp"If any of you have been to Los Angeles 20 years ago, you'll remember the sky was brown. You go there now, the sky is blue and you know why? Because leaders decided to lead and we took on these big fossil fuel companies," she said. "We have some of the most important and strongest laws in the country and we made a difference."/ppstrongFacts First:/strong Harris was correct that L.A.'s skies are less polluted than they were 20 years ago, but it remains one of the a href="https://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/sota/city-rankings/most-polluted-cities.html" target="_blank"most polluted/a cities in the country./ppAir quality has a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2733972?utm_campaign=articlePDFutm_medium=articlePDFlinkutm_source=articlePDF><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>