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Fact-check: Democratic debate from Houston

Posted: 9:34 PM, Sep 12, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-12 23:30:43-04
Fact-check: Democratic debate from Houston

Thursday's Democratic Party debate, in Houston, features the 10 candidates who met polling and fundraising thresholds set by the Democratic National Committee.

It comes as former Vice President Joe Biden and his rivals -- including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren -- have sharpened their criticism of one another's campaign themes. This debate featured heated moments over health care, criminal justice and immigration, among other topics. The two previous debates (fact checks here and here ) have also included lengthy exchanges on health care.

The debate also features South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas, businessman Andrew Yang, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

Here are the facts.

How many people will be covered under Biden's health care plan

Castro attacked Biden's health care plan, saying "the problem with your plan is that it leaves 10 million uncovered."

Facts First: Castro is right.

It's not the first time a Democratic contender has criticized Biden's plan. Harris made an issue of it on the debate stage in Detroit.

Biden's proposal -- which builds on the Affordable Care Act by creating a government-backed health insurance option and increasing Obamacare's federal subsidies -- would insure more than an estimated 97% of Americans , according to his plan.

That means out of the population of 327 million in the country, roughly 10 million would be left without any health insurance.

However, it's unclear exactly who would be uninsured. But under Biden's plan, families buying coverage on the Obamacare exchanges would spend no more than 8.5% of their income on health insurance -- a sum that might be too pricey for some Americans.

-Donna Borak

The future of private health insurance

Klobuchar went after Sanders' defense of his Medicare for All bill, attempting to turn his signature line of "I wrote the damn bill' into a one-liner of her own.

"And while Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill. And on page 8 -- on page 8 of the bill, it says that we will no longer have private insurance as we know it. And that means that 149 million Americans will no longer be able to have their current insurance."

Facts First: This is true according to one estimate by a prominent health care research center.

On page 8 of the legislation Klobuchar references -- S.1129, the Medicare for All Act of 2019 -- there is a provision that stipulates it would be unlawful under the plan for "a private health insurer to sell health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under this Act." The bill also bans employer-provided coverage on the same page.

However, different organizations have different estimates for how many Americans have private insurance, and who therefore would be at risk of losing it under a Medicare for All plan. Klobuchar cites a number backed by a 2014 survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation , a national nonpartisan nonprofit. That survey indicated that 149 million non-elderly people had employer-sponsored coverage.

While some Republicans and Democrats have cited the higher figure, the US Census Bureau estimated that in 2017, more than 181 million people had employment-based health insurance .

-Sarah Westwood and Caroline Kelly

US health care spending vs. other wealthy countries

Sanders repeated a claim he's often made on the amount of money the US spends on health care.

"We are spending twice as much per capita on health care as the Canadians or any other major country on Earth," Sanders said.

Facts First: Sanders is right about Canada. While there's no universal definition of "major country," so there's some subjectivity here, it's not true that the US spends twice as much per capita on health care as every other country in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, a group of 36 wealthy countries around the world.

At $10,586 per capita in 2018, the US did spend more than twice as much as Canada ($4,974) and more than twice as much as the OECD average ($3,992) in 2018 -- but Switzerland ($7,317), Norway ($6,187) and Germany ($5,986) all were substantially above half the US level; Sweden ($5,447), Austria ($5,395) and Denmark ($5,299) were also above half, though more slightly.

You can read a longer version of this fact check here . Sanders has been repeating this same exaggeration since at least 2009, when fact-checkers at PolitiFact first noted that it wasn't true.

-Daniel Dale

Family separations at the border

In a discussion of immigration policy, former Vice President Joe Biden said: "We didn't lock people up in cages, we didn't separate families."

Facts first: Both of Biden's claims are false. While the Obama administration didn't systematically separate families, it did happen under certain circumstances.

Separations did sometimes occur under Obama, but they were non-routine and much less frequent , according to immigration experts and former Obama officials.

They occurred in exceptional cases. Examples include those where the parent was being criminally prosecuted for carrying drugs across the border or other serious crimes aside from illegal crossing, those where human trafficking was suspected and those where the authorities could not confirm the connection between the child and the adult.

The separations didn't happen as a result of a blanket policy, however, as was the case during the Trump administration's controversial "zero tolerance" policy last year.

Similarly, fenced enclosures at processing facilities along the border, the structures that have been labeled as cages, existed under the Obama administration. Some individuals -- including children -- were held in those cells during processing.

-Priscilla Alvarez

Trump's tariffs are costing jobs

Sen. Amy Klobuchar said that Trump's trade war is costing American jobs. "One forecast recently says that it has already cost us 300,000 jobs," she said.

Facts First: This is true according to one major economic analysis. A September report from Moody's Analytics estimates that Trump's trade war with China has cost "almost 300,000 jobs" since it started about a year ago.

It's tricky to calculate exactly how many jobs have been lost because of Trump's tariffs on Chinese-made goods. One reason the trade war could be hurting American jobs is because Trump's tariff strategy has created a lot of uncertainty for businesses. They don't know how long the tariffs will be in place or whether the rate of the tariff will go up as part of a negotiating strategy -- making it hard to make investments and hire new workers.

But the Moody's report isn't the only one that suggests the duties are having an effect on US workers. A report from staffing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said that trade difficulties were cited as the reason for more than 10,000 job cuts in August alone.

-Katie Lobosco

NRA member support for gun control measures

Former Vice President Joe Biden claimed that gun control measures put forward by the Obama administration had a majority of support from NRA members.

"Those proposals I put forward for the President had over 50% of gun -- members of the NRA supporting them," he said.

Facts First: According to one poll, a majority of NRA members did support some gun control measures proposed by the Obama administration, but not all.

In a 2013 poll conducted by Johns Hopkins University, 74% of people who identified as NRA members supported universal background checks, which the Obama administration proposed following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook.

A majority -- 62 percent -- of this cohort "supported prohibiting gun ownership for 10 years after a person has been convicted of violating a domestic-violence restraining order," according to the poll . And 70 percent supported increasing penalties for individuals who sell a gun to someone who is not allowed to own a gun.

As part of its proposals following Sandy Hook, the Obama administration proposed a ban on so-called assault weapons and high capacity magazines (those that hold more than ten bullets). Only 15% of NRA members supported the ban of so-called assault weapons and 19% supported the banning of sales of high capacity magazines, according to the JHU poll.

-Holmes Lybrand

Environmental cleanup in Los Angeles

In discussing air pollution, Sen. Kamala Harris brought up the progress Los Angeles has made in cleaning up its air.

"If any of you have been to Los Angeles 20 years ago, you'll remember the sky was brown. You go there now, the sky is blue and you know why? Because leaders decided to lead and we took on these big fossil fuel companies," she said. "We have some of the most important and strongest laws in the country and we made a difference."

Facts First: Harris was correct that L.A.'s skies are less polluted than they were 20 years ago, but it remains one of the most polluted cities in the country.

Air quality has improved in LA and in many cities around the country since the 1990s. This is largely due to better air quality-control policies at the federal, state and local levels. The improvement in air quality has had a positive health impact on L.A. residents. Studies show better lung function in children who live in the region.

Those bluer skies, though, are still extremely polluted . The Los Angeles area has the worst level of ozone pollution in the country, according to the annual American Lung Association's State of the Air report . Ozone, also called smog , essentially causes a sunburn of the lung , irritating and inflaming the lining of our lungs when we breathe it in. It can leave us winded, cause asthma attacks , make us more susceptible to infection and even shorten our lives.

In 2018, the region violated federal smog standards 87 days in a row, the longest single stretch in 20 years.

-Jen Christensen