Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said he’d take on the billionaire class and help fix an economy that’s rigged against the little guy. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she’d create more good jobs for Americans and raise the wages for the middle class.
Both presidential contenders put forth these ideas during the first Democratic debate, held Tuesday evening in Las Vegas at the Wynn Resort, and televised by CNN.
It was a rollicking, civil conversation where five presidential hopefuls went to unusual lengths to show their support for one another as they touched on economic themes important to entrepreneurs. And in a signature moment of the evening, Sanders, who claims to be a Democratic Socialist, shunned the kind of "casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little."
He also sought to dispense with the email scandal ghosting candidate Clinton’s campaign, calling it a distraction from real issues. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails,” Sanders said to thundering applause.
Small businesses were in the spotlight, too, and were mentioned directly several times, including in a question by co-moderator Dana Bash about how entrepreneurs should be expected to pay for potential new regulations, such as paid time off for family medical leave.
Also on the stage were former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, and former Rhode Island Senator and governor Lincoln Chafee, candidates who barely register in polls with would-be Democratic voters. But the real contest was between front-runners Sanders and Clinton, as they dominated the stage during the two-and-a-half hour event.
Here are four takeaways for small businesses:
1. Paid Medical and Family Leave
Citing Denmark as a good example, Sanders said every other advanced western nation offered employees paid time off for medical and family matters, such as attending to sick children, and the U.S. should too. Clinton agreed that there should be paid medical leave. Co-moderator Bash questioned Clinton about how small business owners specifically would pay for the new regulation. Clinton said paid medical leave was already working well in California, one of the country’s largest states, which could be a model for the rest of the country. (Like disability insurance, the California paid leave program is fully funded by employees' contributions.) “I remember as a young mother…having a baby wake up who was sick and I’m supposed to be in court, because I was practicing law,” Clinton said. “I think we need to recognize the incredible challenges that so many parents face, particularly working moms.”
It was O’Malley who made the strongest pitch to tackle immigration reform and to find a path forward to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., though he was short on details. “We are a nation of immigrants, we are made stronger by immigrants,” O'Malley said. Sanders also said he favored immigration reform, while defending his record in the Senate where he had voted in 2007 against similar legislation. He has long expressed disdain for so-called "guest worker" programs, which was a key provision in the 2007 law. Sanders says it's just an excuse to pay immigrants less. Clinton said she favored covering the children of undocumented immigrants under existing health care laws, as part of a larger fix to improve immigration laws.
3. The Minimum Wage
Sanders said he’d more than double the current federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. O’Malley said he’d passed “living wage” reform when he was governor, and favored raising wages for all Americans. While he did not mention what new level he favored, as governor he passed legislation that will increase Maryland's minimum wage to $10.10. Clinton said she’d raise the minimum wage, though to an unspecified level, as part of a comprehensive package that would make companies “share profits with the workers who helped to make them.” This summer, Clinton released details of that plan, which would include tax credits up to two years for businesses that include profit sharing as part of their employee compensation.
Clinton said she’d make the tax system more fair, would close loopholes for the wealthy, and create tax cuts for the middle class. Sanders said he’d create a special Wall Street speculation tax that would help make college free for students. Chafee said he’d add another bracket to the top tier of earners, which he said would generate $42 billion in additional revenue.