Thursday’s night Democratic presidential debate featured all 10 leading candidates on one stage for the first time.
Like the previous two debates, however, several candidates made comments that had dubious standing in the facts. These claims included comments about the economy, healthcare and other topics that are likely to become major issues during the 2020 election.
Here are the facts behind some of the Democrats’ claims.
How much will Medicare for All cost?
Starting with the first question in the September debate, the cost of Medicare for All quickly became one of the most contentious topics of the night. The first question was whether former Vice President Joe Biden believes that Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren go too far with their Medicare for All plans.
“I know that the Senator [Warren] says she’s for Bernie. Well, I’m for Barack,” Biden said. (Warren said at the first debate in Miami, “I’m with Bernie on Medicare for All.”) He continued his refrain about Obamacare, saying, “I think the Obamacare worked.”
The conversation soon became a debate about the specific prices of the candidates’ proposals for public healthcare options. Biden said his own plan would cost the United States $740 billion over 10 years, while Sanders’ plan would cost the country approximately $30 trillion (and ban private insurance companies) over 10 years.
On that point, Biden may be right on the surface, but misrepresenting the numbers. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan nonprofit policy analysis organization, does estimate that Sanders’s plan would cost $30 trillion through 2026—however, the committee estimates there would be a net cost of $17 trillion after offsetting $11 trillion taken in with new taxes.
A report by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University similarly estimates that Sanders’s proposal would “increase federal budget commitments by approximately $32.6 trillion during its first 10 years of full implementation.” The Urban Institute, another policy and economics research center, came out with the same number in a 2016 report. “Federal expenditures would increase by $32.0 trillion” between 2017 and 2026, their research found.
The U.S. already spends about $3.5 trillion a year on healthcare, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Sanders countered that without reform, the healthcare system would cost the American people $50 trillion over the same period. Sanders has also previously said that Biden’s plan for healthcare reform, specifically, would cost the nation that much. The total projected national health expenditure for 2016 to 2026, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is nearly $48 trillion.
“Every study done shows that Medicare for All is the most cost-effective approach to providing healthcare to every man, woman and child in this country,” Sanders said. “I, who wrote the damn bill, if I may say so, intend to eliminate all out of pocket expenses.”
But beyond the price-tag, Biden expressed concern that neither Sanders nor Warren have fully explained how they’ll pay for their plans.
When Biden pressed both Sanders and Warren on how they’d pay for their proposals — saying that it would be left to American taxpayers — Warren pivoted to talk about how Americans have to pay out of pocket costs daily, even with their own healthcare, and Sanders reiterated how much the U.S. would pay over a decade without changing the healthcare system.
“What families have to deal with is cost. The total cost. That’s what they have to deal with,” Warren said, saying that taxes would only go up for the wealthiest Americans. “For hardworking families across this country, costs are going to go down, and that’s how it should work.”
Warren has yet to put out a specific proposal for how she would pay for Medicare for All, while Sanders has put out specifics, including employer involvement, income-based premiums and a more progressive “personal income tax system.”
Biden: ‘We didn’t lock people up in cages, we didn’t separate families’
Biden’s claim that he did not put people in cages is inaccurate. This is something Democrats have said before, but the Obama Administration did use chained enclosures to house immigrants, and some of those facilities are the same ones the Trump Administration has used. The ACLU sued the Obama Administration over its practice of locking up immigrants, and photos of immigrants in these “cages” in 2014 circulated last year when activists incorrectly said they showed the conditions under President Donald Trump.
The Obama Administration also separated migrant children and families in some circumstances, such as if the child was suspected to be in danger. However, this was very different from President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy last year that resulted in thousands of families being separated and caused a national outcry.
In terms of deportation numbers, more immigrants were deported in Obama’s early years than have been under Trump—but the priorities of the two administrations were also very different, and deportations slowed under the Obama Administration after he received blowback for the deportations during his first term. Under Obama, the Administration often prioritized immigrants with criminal records while the Trump Administration has not kept such targets and has seen a lack of resources slow the President’s deportation efforts.
Booker: ‘We have more African Americans under criminal supervision today than all the slaves in 1850’
Even without adjusting for the dramatic population growth in the United States in the years since 1850, this claim by Sen. Cory Booker is exaggerated. Although African Americans are overrepresented among incarcerated people in the United States, in 1850, enslaved African Americans outnumbered “free blacks and colored people” seven to one.
As of the 1850 census, 3,204,313 people were held as slaves and 434,495 people “free blacks and colored,” out of a total U.S. population of 23,191,876, according to the 1850 census.
In 2014, however, 2.3 million African Americans were in correctional facilities in the United States, according to the NAACP. As of 2013, there were more than 45 million African Americans in the United States.
The statement holds more true for African American men. In 1850, roughly 1.1 million black men 15 years old and above were slaves. They vastly outnumbered the population of nearly 150,000 “free colored” men who were 15 years old and above.
Sanders: The U.S. has the ‘highest child poverty rate of almost any country on Earth’
Sanders’s claim is exaggerated, although the U.S.’s child poverty rate is higher than many other wealthy countries.
A 2017 report from The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which ranked 41 of the world’s most wealthy countries in terms of how they met the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals for child well-being, found that 29.4% of American children lived in poverty in 2014. The United States had the seventh-highest rate, after Romania, Israel, Turkey, Bulgaria, Mexico and Spain. UNICEF labeled the rate as “above average.”
UNICEF defined “child poverty” as “living in a household where disposable income is less than 60% of the national median (after taking taxes and benefits into account and adjusting for family size and composition using the OECD modified equivalence scale).”
A 2013 report, also from UNICEF, found that among 35 developed nations, the U.S. had the second-highest poverty rate after Romania.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the United States had a child poverty rate of 16.2% in 2018.
But the U.S.’s rate pales to the rate of some regions in the developing world. According to a 2016 UNICEF report, Sub-Saharan African has a “children headcount poverty rate” of 48.7%.