Democrats lay out plans for Middle East, healthcare in debate

Democrats lay out plans for Middle East, healthcare in debate
From left to right, 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar gather onstage for a debate in Des Moines, Iowa on Tuesday. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Democratic candidates for president participated Tuesday in the final debate before the Iowa caucuses, weighing in on the escalated conflict with Iran.

When asked whether U.S. troops should remain in the Middle East, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren agreed that all troops should come home, while former Vice President Joe Biden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar called for some troops to remain in the region.


"The American people are sick and tired of endless wars, which have cost us trillions of dollars," Sanders said.

Six candidates qualified for the debate in Des Moines, Iowa, where voters will cast the first votes in caucuses Feb. 3 in the Democratic primary to unseat Republican President Donald Trump on Nov. 3.

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Sanders compared Trump's actions toward Iran to those that started other wars he said were based on false pretenses.

"What we have to face as a nation is that the two great foreign policy disasters of our lifetimes were the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq. Both of those wars were based on lies and right now, what I fear very much is we have a president who is lying again and could drag us into a war that is even worse than the war in Iraq," he said.

Warren said the presence of U.S. combat troops is not helping the situation in the Middle East, suggesting that the United States instead employ economic and diplomatic solutions.

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"We have to stop this mindset that we can do everything with combat troops. Our military is the finest military on Earth, and they will take any sacrifice we ask them to take, but we should stop asking the military to solve problems that cannot be solved militarily," she said.

Biden said he would leave troops in the Middle East patrolling the Gulf and that it is a mistake to pull out the troops fighting the Islamic State.


"They'll come back if we do not deal with them, and we do not have someone who can bring together the rest of the world to go with us," he said.

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Klobuchar said she would leave some troops in the Middle East but at a lower level than Trump is currently.

"In Afghanistan, I have long wanted to bring our troops home, I would do that. Some would remain for counterterrorism and training. In Syria, I would not have removed 150 troops from the border with Turkey. I think that was a mistake, and I think it made our allies and many others much more vulnerable to ISIS. When it comes to Iraq, right now I would leave our troops there despite the mess that has been created by Donald Trump," she said.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who served in the military, suggested the United States can continue to remain engaged in the Middle East without "having an endless commitment of ground troops."

He criticized Trump for sending more troops to the Middle East, while also saying Trump has made it more difficult to ensure Iran does not develop nuclear weapons by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.


"By gutting that, they have made the region more dangerous and set off the chain of events that we are now dealing with as it escalates even closer to the brink of outright war," he said.


The candidates have been divided on healthcare, with some preferring to expand the Affordable Care Act by introducing a public option while others support a Medicare for All plan that would seek to move the United States toward a single-payer healthcare system.

On Tuesday, the candidates sparred about how they would pay to support their healthcare plans.

Businessman Tom Steyer emphasized that the American healthcare system faces systemic issues caused by the presence of corporations.

"We have a broken government. It has been bought by corporations that include the drug companies, the insurance companies and the private hospitals," he said.

Sanders, who introduced Medicare for All, said the program would see Americans paying less than the current system.

"Medicare for All, which will guarantee comprehensive healthcare to every man, woman and child, will cost substantially less than the status quo," he said.

Sanders said the plan would achieve this goal by implementing a 4 percent tax on income that would exempt the first $29,000.


"The average family in America that today makes $60,000 would today pay $1,200 a year compared to that family paying $12,000 a year," he said.

Klobuchar cited a lack of support among Democrats for a Medicare for All plan and said the focus in the healthcare debate should be on solving specific issues under a nonprofit public option.

"The real debate we should be having is how do we make it easier for people to get coverage for addiction and mental health," she said. "We need to make it easier for people to get long-term care insurance, and we need to make it easier for them to pay for their premiums."

Warren, who supports Medicare for All, said other plans, such as the one Buttigieg has dubbed "Medicare for All who want it," cost less because they only represent a "small improvement" over the status quo.

"By themselves, they're not going to be enough to cover prescriptions for 36 million people who can't afford to get them filled," she said. "What we need to do is make the commitment that we know where the money comes from. We can ask those at the very top, the top 1 percent, to pay a little more ... We can have them pay, and we can go after the corporate tax cheats. When we do that, we have enough money to provide healthcare for all of our people."


Buttigieg responded by saying it is "just not true" that his proposed plan is small.

"We have to move past the Washington mentality that suggests that the bigness of plans only consists of how many trillions of dollars they put through the treasury, the boldness of a plan consists of how many Americans it can alienate," he said.

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