The Democratic primary field is very clearly broken into two tiers, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sitting alone at the top as the presumptive nominee. The two second-tier candidates, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, are down below Clinton, both in the polls and in terms of fundraising. But when it comes to policy, both are increasingly trying to punch up.
For example, Sanders and O’Malley both blasted Clinton over the weekend for her failure to take a position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, among other issues. Clinton, within a day, came out and articulated a position on TPP, though she continued to waffle on the more pressing question of giving President Obama so-called “fast track” negotiating authority.
Not all of the Democrats’ positions are mysteries, though. Here’s where the three main candidates stand on some of the main issues in the news today.
Clinton: She broke her silence on the TPP over the weekend, siding with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and arguing that the deal being negotiated by the Obama administration doesn’t have sufficient protections for U.S. workers in its current form. This has opened her up to some criticism, because she was a strong advocate of TPP while serving as Obama’s secretary of state.
Sanders: He strongly opposes the TPP, dismissing it as “another corporate-backed agreement that is the latest in a series of failed trade policies which have cost us millions of decent-paying jobs, pushed down wages for American workers and led to the decline of our middle class.” He said he wants American companies to create decent-paying jobs in America, “not just in low-wage countries like Vietnam, Malaysia or China.”
O’Malley: The former governor strongly opposes TPP, largely because lawmakers, union leaders and others won’t be able to read the agreement before a final vote on it by Congress. He is convinced the emerging Pacific Rim agreement would weaken the U.S. economy and undermine jobs. “This deal is a race to the bottom, a chasing of lower-wages abroad,” he said recently. “And I believe that that does nothing to help us build a stronger economy here at home.”
THE BUDGET DEFICIT
Clinton: As secretary of state, she warned that a gaping deficit projected weakness overseas, and she spoke of the personal pain it caused her when the budget surplus achieved during her husband’s second term as president was whittled away by tax cuts and two wars. However, she has been quiet about the issue in her campaign so far; the deficit did not come up at all in her speech over the weekend.
Sanders: He berates Republicans for seeking to balance the budget in the coming decade by cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other federal programs while many major corporations escape paying taxes by keeping revenues off shore and exploiting other loopholes. He said that as president, he would make the wealthiest Americans start paying “their fair share” of taxes to help address the deficit. At the same time, he thinks the government should commit to a $1 trillion, five-year plan to repair and improve the nation’s crumbling highways and infrastructure.
O’Malley: After eight years as governor, O’Malley left the Maryland governor’s office in January with a legacy of one of the most progressive agendas in the nation. But in order to finance his programs and avert big deficits, he had to raise the sales tax, gas tax, income tax and more. Even so, he left behind a long-term structural deficit that his Republican successor, Larry Hogan, has had to wrestle with.
Clinton: She ties economic growth to increased income equality, claiming that “growth and fairness go together.” She is advocating a rewrite of the tax code that she promises will penalize businesses for hoarding profits overseas, reward companies that invest in long-term growth and “unleash a new generation of entrepreneurs and small business owners.”
Sanders: He is championing an end to the “40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else.” Sanders would make public college fees free for everyone and lower interest rates on federal student loans — all paid for with a “Robin Hood Tax” on trades of stocks, bonds, options and futures. He would also raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
O’Malley: The former governor has frequently spoken out against income inequality and has promised to fight for better wages for the middle class. “Americans are working harder but earning less than they did 12 years ago, and wealth has concentrated in the hands of the very few as almost never before,” he says. That means raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, increasing the threshold for overtime pay to $1,000 a week and restoring workers’ collective bargaining power.
WALL STREET AND BANK REFORMS
Clinton: She has often been criticized for her perceived closeness to Wall Street. Democrats further to the left, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have pressed her to take a stronger line on Wall Street reform. On Saturday, she offered a tepid acknowledgement there is a need to “rein in the banks that are still too risky, courting future failures.”
Sanders: The self-described Democratic socialist wants to break up big banks like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America. He argues that the government hasn’t gone nearly far enough in regulating major financial institutions and their investment and loan practices – which, he says, pose too great a risk to the financial system and taxpayers.
O’Malley: He says that despite the 2008 meltdown on Wall Street, just five banks still control half of the industry’s $15 trillion in assets, and not a single executive was ever convicted of a crime. He wants to restore the separation of commercial and investment banking businesses and “break up big banks before they break us.”
Clinton: After taking some flak from advocates for the undocumented, Clinton has begun to speak strongly about providing a path to citizenship for children brought to the U.S. without papers, and for allowing some illegal immigrants the opportunity to earn citizenship by serving in the armed forces. Her campaign manager, Robby Mook, said recently that her goal is to go even further than President Obama has in his executive orders. Clinton, he said, wants to “stop deporting the parents of these DREAMers who are contributing to our economy, and are valuable members of our society.”
Sanders: He has said relatively little about the immigration reform controversy during campaign appearances, although he recently did offer that, “We need a rational immigration process, not the Republican alternatives of self-deportation or some other draconian non-solution.” He added that he supported President Obama’s efforts to do through executive action what Congress hasn’t done legislatively: protect millions of undocumented immigrants and their children from being deported.
O’Malley: He has long been a champion of immigration reform and has characterized Clinton’s recent pronouncements as coming late to the party. He has vowed he would pursue immigration reform in his first 100 days in office and would use executive action, if necessary, to overcome Republican opposition — much like President Obama has attempted to do with no success thus far.
Clinton: She has made all the right noises about being willing to “do whatever it takes to keep Americans safe,” but has also tried to temper promises to maintain a strong military with assurances that she’s not going to shoot first and ask questions later. “Meeting today’s global challenges requires every element of America’s power, including skillful diplomacy, economic influence, and building partnerships to improve lives around the world with people, not just their governments,” she said.
Sanders: He blames the Republicans for having led the country into protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have run up the national debt by trillions of dollars. If Congress and the administration insist on upping war efforts against ISIS and other terrorist groups, then he would favor imposing a “war tax” to cover the added expense. He said that ISIS is a “brutal, awful, dangerous army” that must be defeated — but Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern allies must pick up more of the responsibility. He would support arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, but favors limiting direct U.S. involvement in the fighting.
O’Malley: He has generally shied away from major pronouncements on how he would deal with crises in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. In February, when the White House sent Congress a formal request for authorization to use military force against ISIS, O’Malley was somewhat opaque, writing on Facebook that, "The new AUMF should address ISIS specifically, and mitigate any unintended consequences by including clear language on the use of ground troops and the length and terms of engagement."
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