From health care and student loan debt to climate change and trade with China, here are the most pressing entrepreneurial issues the group of 10 candidates discussed.
1. Health care
As was the case in the previous debate on Wednesday, health care was easily the evening's most divisive issue. That conversation started with Vermont senator Bernie Sanders describing his Medicare for All plan, which would replace private employer-provided programs. "People who have health care under Medicare for All will have no premiums, no deductibles, no co-payments, no out-of-pocket expenses," he said. "Yes, they will pay more in taxes, but less in health care for what they get."
California senator Kamala Harris also said she would abolish private insurance as president. New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand proposed a transition period to Medicare for All that would pit public and private insurance programs against each other--because, she said, the insurance companies would lose.
Multiple other candidates endorsed a plan that South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg termed "Medicare for all who want it"--turning Medicare into an option available to any American. Former vice president Joe Biden argued that such a plan would be the fastest way to insure the most Americans. "Urgency matters," he noted, invoking the deaths of his wife and two of his children. "There are people right now facing what I've faced ... without the help I've had."
2. Climate change
Earlier this month, a new study announced that climate change could cost businesses $970 billion over the next five years--and candidates are paying attention. The topic provoked a wide variety of responses. Harris expressed her support for the Green New Deal, an economic stimulus package aimed at climate change that was recently proposed in both houses of Congress. She and Biden both said they'd reenter the U.S. in the 2016 Paris Agreement on day one of their presidency. Biden added a proposal for creating 500,000 car-charging stations across the country, with the goal of a "full electric vehicle future" by 2030. And Buttigieg advanced his plan for a carbon tax with dividends that would be rebated back to Americans.
3. Income inequality
A few specific proposals emerged on the topic of income inequality. Sanders cited Medicare for All as his solution, because of its supposed decrease in health care costs. Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang targeted "companies like Amazon" as a primary driver behind the nation's wealth gap, and proposed a value-added tax to consumer goods as a way to restore balance.
Notably, Buttigieg called for raising the federal minimum wage to "at least $15 an hour," echoing calls from the popular Fight for $15 political movement. Harris also called out President Trump's rhetoric on the issue: "You ask [Trump], well, how are you measuring this greatness of this economy of yours, and he talks about the stock market. Well, that's fine if you own stocks. So many families in America do not."
4. Student loan debt
American student loan debt is at an all-time high, stifling entrepreneurship and innovation across the country. Many of the candidates have been campaigning on free or debt-free college plans--but the three most specific proposals at Thursday's debate centered on smaller measures.
Buttigieg used his personal experience with six-figure student loan debt to propose free college specifically for "low- and middle-income students for whom cost could be a barrier." California congressman Eric Swalwell suggested complete debt forgiveness for teachers in low-income school districts. And Biden argued for free community college and a freeze on debt repayment for any college graduate earning less than $25,000 per year.
5. Trade with China
Yang and Colorado senator Michael Bennet both endorsed pushing back on China's trade policies, but characterized Trump's tariffs and the U.S.-China trade war as ineffective. Buttigieg argued for domestic investment as a way to level the economic playing field between the two countries, saying that "if we disinvest in our own infrastructure [and] education, we are never going to be able to compete."
Yang and former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, both former small-business owners, said China would be their first planned call to a foreign country as president. Each stressed the importance of rebuilding the relationship between the U.S. and China, with Yang discussing the need for Chinese cooperation on climate change and artificial intelligence.