Santa Fe New Mexican

Dems tussle over health care at Nevada labor forum

- By Michelle L. Price and Kathleen Ronayne

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Democratic presidenti­al candidates’ tussle over health care reform and Barack Obama’s legacy continued Saturday, with former Vice President Joe Biden declaring he’s “against any Democrat who wants to get rid of ‘Obamacare.’ ”

Biden spoke during a forum held by the nation’s largest public employees union in Nevada, the state that will cast the first votes in the West in next year’s primary. He was one of 19 Democratic hopefuls scheduled to speak before the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 1.6 million workers nationwide.

His comments marked a stark contrast with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who said labor would have a voice in her administra­tion as she tries to transition to a government-run “Medicare for All” system. She pledged that union members would be fully compensate­d for what they negotiated under their private plans, but didn’t provide more details on how. She instead tried to redirect attention to the Trump administra­tion’s efforts to have federal courts declare the entire Affordable Care Act law unconstitu­tional.

“When we talk about the great debate right now in health care, it’s not Democrats versus Democrats. It’s Democrats versus Republican­s. Republican­s want to take away health care from tens of millions of people in this country and they’re actively still trying to do it,” Warren said.

Health care is one of the clearest dividing policy lines for the massive Democratic field, and one of several where Biden has tried to paint his rivals as criticizin­g Obama’s legacy.

Former Obama Cabinet secretary Julian Castro, who sparred with Biden over immigratio­n in a recent debate, said it’s not an attack on Obama to acknowledg­e Democrats can do better on immigratio­n and other issues. He said the Obama administra­tion improved over time by decreasing the number of deportatio­ns, but also said Democrats should have made immigratio­n reform a priority when they controlled Congress early in Obama’s presidency.

“There are lessons that we can learn,” Castro said. “This is not about criticizin­g President Obama, this is about ‘OK, what does the next administra­tion have to do?’”

Beyond immigratio­n and health care, candidates Saturday spoke to union workers about kitchen-table issues such as bolstering collective bargaining rights, raising the minimum wage and taxing the wealthy. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said he’d give people who work at home taking care of disabled family members a tax credit. Nearly every candidate pledged to put someone from organized labor in their Cabinet if elected.

Billionair­e activist Tom Steyer extolled the value of union membership as he highlighte­d his commitment to raise taxes on the rich and use his personal fortune to fight on climate change and improve voter turnout.

“You’ve got to join the union, for God’s sake, otherwise you’re a free rider letting everybody else do the fight while you take the money,” he said.

The candidates packed in events around the Las Vegas area over the weekend in a nod to Nevada’s status as the third state where Democrats will vote in the primary, just after Iowa and New Hampshire and before South Carolina. Warren, speaking at a town hall Friday night in a high school gymnasium, said she’s expanding her footprint in Nevada and will soon have six campaign offices, more than any other candidate.

Despite Demowcrats largely sweeping the state in 2018, it remains a battlegrou­nd where President Donald Trump sees a chance of winning next year. He lost the state in 2016 to Democrat Hillary Clinton by 2 percentage points.

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