Democrats Disappoint Disability Community, Again

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Erin Vallely


On July 30th and 31st the second Democratic debates took place.  The debate was again divided into two nights because there are so many eligible candidates.  I had originally planned to write this article in the same fashion I did for the first one with quick summaries of what each candidate said on the issues because I assumed there would be new topics from the moderators.  Unfortunately, it was virtually a repeat of the first debates topics albeit with more details in some areas.  In fact, the CNN moderators seemed much more interested in fueling personal differences and disagreements rather than asking in depth questions about each candidate’s policies and plans. 

The Most Likely Democratic Nominees Debate Recap

Despite each night having ten candidates, only about nine have the potential to be the primary Democratic candidate in the 2020 election.  My articles will focus on these nine candidates but will also provide sources where you can find comprehensive information about all the candidates.  Whenever I discuss multiple candidates, I will list them alphabetically and do my best to remain impartial.  Every candidate did not have the opportunity to speak on every issue so their views on every topic may not be represented in my articles.


Joe Biden believes the fastest and best way to increase and ensure healthcare is to add to the Affordable Care Act.  His plan would cover the “vast, vast, vast majority of Americans” by creating a public option that every American could buy into with a set $1,000 deductible limit and no more than 8.5% of one’s income.  He says anyone on Medicaid would automatically be enrolled in the plan. 

Pete Buttigieg and Julián Castro support a Medicare for All Who Want It option with the intention of making the plan more comprehensive and more affordable than employer based healthcare packages but they also believe people should not be forced out of their private insurance if they want to keep it.  Buttigieg also pointed out whether healthcare is paid for by affordable and fair taxes or fair premiums it will still cost money and Castro stated that profits in the healthcare industry should never be more important than people who need care.  Amy Klobuchar similarly supports a Medicaid public option that people could buy into but believes private insurance should also be an option. 

Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren all want to phase out private insurance entirely, in favor of a Medicare for All system.  Harris pointed out people frequently stay in jobs because they need the insurance that their employer provides them even if the job is not what is best for them personally.  Sanders and Warren both explained that millions of people either do not have insurance or cannot use their insurance because their deductibles and copays are too high.


Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren both stressed the importance of ensuring laborers and environmentalists are an important part of creating new trade deals.  Warren also believes unions, small business owners and human rights activists should also be part of trade deals.  Further, she suggests that we should require other countries to abide by certain labor and environmental standards before we will trade with them.  Bernie Sanders believes we should only give government contracts to companies who do not outsource jobs.  Pete Buttigieg and Julián Castro stressed the importance of retraining people for today’s jobs and for the industries that are growing.  Buttigieg supports unionization for gig workers (freelancers and independent contractors) because they work just as hard as someone with a predictable job.  Castro expressed his belief that everyone should be paid enough and have access to affordable healthcare, so a medical emergency no longer results in homelessness. 

Pete Buttigieg supports debt-free college for low and middle-income students by expanding Pell Grants and requiring states to put more money into higher education.  He also wants to make loans more affordable to pay back and expand public service loan forgiveness programs for people who fill needed jobs.  Amy Klobuchar supports restructuring student loan repayment programs and forgiveness programs, as well as enabling people to refinance their remaining debt.  On the other hand, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both call for universal tuition-free college funded by fair taxes on the richest Americans and canceling all current outstanding student debt.   

In other efforts to improve the economy, all the candidates support an increased minimum wage.  Joe Biden supports an $8,000 tax credit for every person who needs childcare.  Kamala Harris proposes requiring corporations to post on their website their gender pay equality gap and suggests fining them 1% of their total yearly profits for every 1% differential between what they’re paying men and women.  Amy Klobuchar stressed that to her, economic opportunity means economic opportunity for everyone.  She wants to improve childcare and education, pay teachers more, and make sure there’s a decent retirement system in place, along with investing specifically in African-American communities while ensuring everyone benefits.  Bernie Sanders agreed that we must confront institutional racism and work economically to mitigate this issue by rebuilding distressed communities.  Lastly, Elizabeth Warren calls for a 2% tax on every dollar earned over 50 million dollars.  She says this tax alone could fund universal childcare between ages zero to five, universal pre-K for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old, raise every childcare worker and preschool teacher’s wages, provide universal tuition-free college and cancel student loan debt for 95% of people.

Criminal and Racial Justice and Gun Control

Joe Biden said that when someone commits a drug crime they should go into treatment, rather than prison.  For people who are in jail, they should be given educational opportunities and should have access to services they would qualify for upon their release if they did not have a criminal record.  Cory Booker supports the federal legalization of marijuana and wants to reinvest the money into communities that have been affected by drug arrests.  Julián Castro calls for sentencing reform, cash bail reform, increased investment in public defenders and significant investments in diversion programs to help keep people out of jail.  Kirsten Gillibrand stated that police officers who engage in unnecessary or illegal behavior should be immediately fired.  All the candidates that spoke on the issue believe we need police reform, including mandatory body cameras and that we must actively change the embedded racism in public and private institutions. 

Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders all called for universal background checks and a ban on all assault weapons.  Buttigieg supports red flag laws that would disarm domestic abusers and flag individuals deemed to be a mental health risk.  Klobuchar also wants to limit magazines and believes no comprehensive gun reform will occur until politicians stop the NRA from interfering.  Sanders pointed out we have to end gun sale loopholes as well. 


Not discussed in this article were candidates Michael Bennet, Bill de Blasio, Steve Bullock, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, John Hickenlooper (dropped out), Jay Inslee, Beto O’ Rourke, Tim Ryan, Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang.  While some new information was gained from the debates, it was somewhat buried in the moderators attempts to fuel infighting and, in some cases, led to irrelevant tangents.  There were no new topics or significant in-depth discussions on the candidate’s policy suggestions. 

Again, individuals with disabilities were completely left out of the conversation, unless we count things that the candidates say “everyone” deserves and needs.  To give them the benefit of the doubt, I hope we truly are ALL included in such generalizations.  Nevertheless, it is increasingly frustrating to know they discuss their healthcare proposals and cannot be bothered to mention community-based services and durable medical equipment coverage.  To hear their discussions of the pay gaps in our economy but not address the fact that it is still legal to pay disabled individuals subminimum wages.  I feel increasingly invisible to the candidates when they denounce sexism, racism, domestic terrorism and xenophobia but not ableism.  While every individual holds multiple identities, it does not instill confidence in me that any of the candidates have a specific plan to improve disabled individuals lives.  When candidates do not mention a quarter of the country’s population, why should we trust that they will suddenly come up with policies that could truly change our lives for the better?

Once the candidate pool shrinks more, I believe we should call for a specific disability issues debate.  We deserve to know if the potential new healthcare systems will help us get the services we need to live anywhere we want.  We deserve to know what they plan to do to address the inaccessible housing crisis and how they will help ensure we all, no matter our abilities, have equal access to safe and fair work opportunities.  We must ask how they plan to change laws so we can get married without fear of losing vital services.  We need to know who actually cares about disabled individual’s lives, and who has no idea what our community deals with on a daily basis.

Sources for Further Information

Night One Debate Video

Night One Debate Transcript

Night One Debate Fact Check Analysis

Night Two Debate Video

Night Two Debate Transcript

Night Two Debate Fact Check Analysis

Comprehensive Democratic Candidate Information,_2020


Erin Vallely lives with a rare form of muscular dystrophy and is a proud wheelchair user. Having graduated with a B.A. in Sociology and Anthropology with a Spanish minor from Wells College in Aurora, NY, she will pursue her Masters of Social and Public Policy at Empire State College starting this fall with a focus on disability rights, advocacy, and healthcare policy. In her spare time, Erin enjoys reading about other people’s experiences, supporting other minority groups, and traveling.