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The Most Controversial Policy Stances of Each Democratic Candidate

By Jane Cameron

As the race for the 2020 presidential election nears, the primary electorate is figuring out who deserves their vote from the extensive list of Democratic candidates. Therefore, it is essential that they be well-informed regarding the different stances on the issues of each candidate. In order to increase voters’ political efficacy, this article will highlight the current leading candidates’ most controversial stance on a policy. The ideas covered will be exclusively held by the individual candidate and help to guide voters with certain ideological concepts essential to their decision-making process. 

Joe Biden: Decriminalize Weed

Joe Biden currently leads the Democratic field in the 2020 primary for President of the United States. Biden possesses an extensive resume of experience for the job with a lifetime of involvement in politics. Recently, he held the role of Vice President under Barack Obama, and before that served as Senator of Delaware from 1973. In addition to these positions, he has traveled as a public speaker and author. 

As part of his criminal justice plan Joe Biden intends to decriminalize mariuana. During one of the democratic debates he declared, "Nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana.” and asserted that offenses concerning marajuana should be labeled as misdemeanors. What would follow this enactment would be the expunging of prior criminal records for marijuana possession. Biden derides the upholding of marajuana regulations as a waste of resources, and has said that the current situation poorly allocates time and money. Current data suggests that certain demographics are much more commonly convicted for crimes related to marajuana, demonstrating that enforcement often has racist components to it. Furthermore prisons are burdened with overcrowding due to necessity to imprison individuals convicted of non-threatening crimes like possession of marajuana. He would leave rulings pertaining to marajuana in states’ hands, believing the federal government has more pressing matters to deal with and that the states have the ability to manage such issues. While leaving this matter to the states may be easy to enact as President, since it does not require extra exertion from the federal government, there are other aspects of his mission that may prove more difficult to accomplish. Currently there are certain steps that need to be taken to have one’s record expunged. Waiving these requirements would necessitate a court decision or further legal action. Biden will encounter many roadblocks in his efforts to achieve his goals regarding many parts of his plan, which will cause it to be a long and drawn out process, if not impossible.

Elizabeth Warren: The Wealth Tax

Elizabeth Warren has served in many different positions in overseeing the creation of policy and has grown influential in the Democratic party. Like Biden, Warren was also involved in the Obama administration—she served as Advisor to President Barack Obama on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from 2010 to 2011. Before this she was Chair of the Congressional oversight panel of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) from 2008-2010. And impressively, she was able to fulfill her duties while acting as a tenured law professor at Harvard Law School from 1993 to 2013. After her work at Harvard, in 2013, she became a Senator for the state of Massachusetts. 

Warren has proposed a direct tax on wealth, a proposition that has not been made by any prominent Democratic candidate in decades. This would create a two-percent levy on fortunes greater than fifty million dollars and would be imposed on one’s total wealth as opposed to their annual income. In addition, Warren would tax three cents on every dollar of wealth exceeding a billion dollars. These payments would be made annually and according to her calculations would bring in $2.75 trillion over ten years. This revenue could be used to fund government programs that Sen. Warren is proposing. Nevertheless, implementing such a tax comes with blurry lines. There is the challenge of valuing privately owned businesses among other resources that do not have distinct parameters of their worth. There is also the question of whether this would encourage divorce in order to technically have smaller fortunes or to allocate your money to different places in unlawful ways. Despite the necessary clarifications and regulations that need to accompany this policy, there is also the concern of how Warren will get this plan enacted. Republicans have decreased the estate tax’s effect by expanding the exemption threshold. Their intended mission to reduce taxes for the wealthy would be directly attacked by this plan, and with heavy unity voting it is not likely she would gain support from the right. Moreover, Democrats working in large corporations and higher on the economic scale have expressed disapproval of this plan as well. Garnering support for this deal will be necessary for such drastic legislation.

Bernie Sanders: Cancel all Student Debt

Bernie Sanders is known as the most liberal of the Democratic candidates, often categorized as a socialist. After serving as a Congressman in Vermont for 16 years he ascended the political ladder and became a senator in 2006. He has maintained his role as senator since, and after being the runner-up in the 2016 Democratic election for President, he seeks to become the party’s nominee for the 2020 election.

Sanders has formulated a plan to Cancel all student debt and titled it the Inclusive Prosperity Act. This act would cancel approximately $1.6 trillion of student loans, undergraduate or graduate debt. The implications of this act suggest 45 million people would be cleared of their debts without any regards to whether their families could afford their education. He believes that no one should be burdened with a debt in order to receive higher education and offers the solution of making all four years of college at any institution free. Within his larger plan he wants to decrease the tuition fees for low income students at private colleges as well. Sanders plans to fund this plan solely from inducing higher taxes on Wall Street. This came as very displeasing news to not just conservatives, but “the corporate wing of the Democratic Party" as well. In order for this new legislation to be passed Sanders would need the Senate to change control and changes would most likely need to be made to gain the support of enough of his party. To alter the economic structure of colleges and place heavy taxes on powerful corporations Sanders is facing several logistical obstacles in order to succeed in his goal.  

Pete Buttigieg: Expand the Supreme Court

Pete Buttigieg strives to be the youngest president in the United State’s history at the age of 37. He has experience as a consultant for McKinsey & Company from 2007-2010, and previously served as a US Navy Reserve officer from 2009 to 2017, completing a seven-month tour as a counterintelligence officer in Afghanistan. In his mission to serve the country he was driven to run for mayor of South Bend, Indiana and was elected in 2011 and reelected in 2015. 

Pete Buttigieg is the voice of a younger generation and with this comes a desire for innovation. He seeks to alter an institution that has run the same way since the constitution was founded, the Supreme Court. He describes a need for the transformation of this branch of government, explaining “the point is, we've got to get out of where we are now, where any time there is an opening, there is an apocalyptic, ideological firefight. It harms the court, it harms the country and it leads to outcomes like we have right now.” He plans to increase the members on the Supreme Court from nine to fifteen and establish different categories within this fifteen member bench. The creation of sectors promotes the two-party system, that has been apparent throughout the U.S.’s history. There would be five judges from the Republican party and five from the Democratic party. The remaining five would be non-partisan and would be appointed by a consensus of the ten partisan judges. Today there has been an apparent occurrence of judges voting based on party lines. Buttigieg believes this proposal will create a more balanced court and reduce the controversy that comes with a new justice. Voters worry that judges with declared party affiliations will vote on partisan lines every time, effectively increasing gridlock and halting the judges from making unbiased rulings. Although the Constitution does not mandate the number of judges on the Supreme Court, there is the Appointments Clause of the Constitution which articulates that the President is granted the authority to appoint appoint Supreme Court Judges. Therefore, trying to give that role to sitting members of the Court could be legally dicey without a Constitutional amendment. A Constitutional amendment would require 2/3 votes in both Houses of Congress followed by approval from 3/4 of State Legislatures. Making such drastic alterations to the court will be approached cautiously by the electorate which could prolong or halt this initiative altogether. 

Kamala Harris: Citizenship for Dreamers and executive actions to help legalize in the meantime

Kamala Harris’s  professional experience spans from practicing as a lawyer to serving as a politician. She served as a San Francisco District Attorney from 2004 to 2011. As she advanced her law career she eventually became Attorney General of California from 2011 to 2017. Following her passion for law, she was inspired to transform the policy before her and became a Senator in the state of California in 2016. 

Kamala Harris has an extensive plan to end the legal issues young undocumented “Dreamers” are faced with when trying to achieve citizenship staus in the U.S. She would begin by allowing Dreamers who are married to U.S citizens to apply for a green card through the program she would create “Dreamers Parole-in-Place Program”. She would also allow Dreamers to seek permanent residency in the country through an act she would create and go on to name the Immigration and Nationality Act. She would not stop there, and promises to reinstitute the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program which was formulated and enacted by the Obama administration. This would require Homeland Security to grant retroactive work permits for all the Dreamers. Finally, she would eliminate bans on dreamers who exit the country and apply for a green card at a consulate abroad. The effects of this plan could protect as many as 6 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to remain in the country. She plans to change the lives of these 6 million people through executive orders since she does not expect Congress to be responsive to these ideas. This has raised concerns about the executive branch usurping the powers of Congress. Although the Supreme Court would inevitably review the constitutionality of her orders, Harris believes she would be able to follow through with these promises. If she were to accomplish her plan the country would see a transformation from the Trump administration’s view on illegal immigrants. 

These political stances on controversial issues could potentially affect the outcome of the Democratic election as they are issues no other candidate is willing to take on. Additionally, many of these proposals are so specific to each candidate that they are not addressed in the media when discussing the overarching political stances of the Democratic nominees. Further inquiry on the larger implications of these plans may take place after the Democratic party selects its nominee. Voters must now take this information in their hands and determine whether these are policies they can support.  

Jane Cameron is a freshman majoring in journalism and mass communication, from Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Note: this article was first written on November 1st. All information, statistics, and events contained in this post are accurate as of that date.