AMES, Iowa—Fresh from the second Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Rodham Clinton has suggested that Bernie Sanders would raise middle-class taxes and “scrap” President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, in an escalating critique of the Vermont senator.
Joined by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, at a fall barbecue, the front-runner said Sunday that middle-class families “need a raise, not a tax increase” and she was the lone Democrat in the debate to commit to raising wages “and not your taxes.”
Without mentioning her main rival by name, Clinton said Democrats should work to build on Obama’s health law and not suggest “we scrap it and start all over again.” During the debate, Clinton questioned Sanders’ 2013 health care legislation, saying it would dismantle the law and empower Republican governors like Terry Branstad of Iowa to administer the healthcare system in each state. Sanders envisions a “single-payer” system that would be run by the states under federal rules.
Sanders, in a brief interview following a town hall meeting at Simpson College in Indianola, said he could pay for his agenda without raising taxes on middle-class families. “Our agenda is the most progressive in terms of demanding that Wall Street, large corporations and the wealthy finally start paying their fair share of taxes,” he said.
During the event, he said he had helped write Obama’s healthcare law. “We are the only major country on earth that does not guarantee healthcare to all as a right. We have got to end that embarrassment,” he said.
Even as the field responded somberly to the deadly attacks in Paris, the debate Saturday night marked a feistier phase in the Democratic campaign. Helped by a strong autumn, Clinton has built a small lead in Iowa and is trying to stave off Sanders in the Feb. 1 presidential caucuses.
Sanders put Clinton on the defensive in the debate when he said Wall Street had been the major contributor to her campaigns in order to get support in return.
Clinton responded that Sanders was trying to “impugn my integrity” and said that as a New York senator, she helped New York City’s financial hub rebuild after the Sept. 11 attacks. Her invoking of 9/11 received an incredulous response on social media and Republicans accused her of shamefully hiding behind the attacks to deflect attention from her ties to her wealthiest donors.
Taking the stage in Ames, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said Clinton brought up 9/11 to try to “mask her proximity to Wall Street and the huge amount of contributions and the dollars she has received personally from the major banks of Wall Street.”
“She doesn’t have to mask it. It is what it is,” O’Malley said. “That is the sort of company, that is the sort economic advice that she would follow.”
Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said following the debate that the senator’s proposals would be paid for with higher taxes on the wealthy and large corporations. “He’s raising taxes to pay for relief for middle-income and working people,” he said.
Sanders noted his support of legislation backed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Clinton’s successor as New York senator, to provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. He said it would be paid for by adding about $1.38 a week to payroll taxes for the average worker. “I would hope that all of the presidential candidates would come on board with this legislation,” he said.
Clinton’s campaign did not immediately comment on the proposal.
At Simpson College, Sanders also said the Paris attacks showed that the United States can’t address the crisis of raging extremism on its own. He said Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia should join the U.S. and other nations to fight the Islamic State (ISIS).