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Candidates raise hands at the first U.S. 2020 presidential election Democratic candidates debate in Miami, Florida, U.S.,

Fact check: Night 1 of the 2020 Democratic presidential debate

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on PolitiFact.

The Democrats who want to challenge Donald Trump for the presidency took the stage for the first debate of the presidential primary of the 2020 election cycle. Many of them argued that the U.S. economy isn’t working for working people.

The Democratic field is so large that only half the candidates appeared Wednesday; another debate with the rest of the field was scheduled for the next night.

Here are some of the candidates’ comments, with fact-checking or additional context.


Elizabeth Warren: “I spent a big chunk of my life studying why families go broke, and one of the No. 1 reasons is the cost of health care, medical bills. And that’s not just for people who don’t have insurance. It’s for people who have insurance.”

Is the No. 1 reason people go broke the cost of health care? We’ve rated similar statements Half True — partially accurate but lacking important context.

A 2005 study Warren co-authored and a 2009 paper both found that health care expenses were a leading cause of personal bankruptcy. But these claims have come under dispute, in particular from academics who suggest that people may overstate the role medical bills play in their financial problems. Other research suggests a far narrower impact, though that in turn has been criticized for focusing only on adult hospitalizations.

That said, research from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau found that medical bills are a leading cause of personal debt — in 2014, the CFPB found that nearly 20% of credit reports included a medical debt tradeline.

— Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News


Amy Klobuchar: “2,500 drug prices have gone up in double digits since Trump took office.”

This is accurate, per a report from Pharmacy Benefits Consultants, an industry group, which listed a number of pharmaceutical products experiencing price increases as high as 1,467.73%.

And the numbers are even less flattering than Klobuchar would suggest.

An analysis by the Associated Press found that, between January and July 2018, more than 4,400 branded prescription drugs experienced price increases. Meanwhile, data compiled by Rx Savings Solutions found that the list price of more than 3,000 drugs went up this year.

— Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News


Beto O’Rourke: Republicans passed “a $2 trillion tax cut that favored corporations while they were sitting on record piles of cash and the very wealthiest in this country at a time of historic wealth inequality.”

This is largely accurate.

In 2018, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office increased its estimate of how much the December 2017 tax bill cost, from about $1.5 trillion to $1.9 trillion.

The tax bill did lower the corporate tax rate at a time when Federal Reserve data showed a record of nearly $2.3 trillion in non-financial companies’ liquid assets in the second quarter of 2017.

As for the tax bill tilting toward the wealthy, the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center estimated that in 2027, the top 1 percent will receive 83 percent of the benefits of the law. That number, according to the center’s analysis, would be smaller early on. Through 2025, the top 1 percent would get 20 percent to 25 percent of the benefits. But even that share suggests a tilt towards wealthier taxpayers.

On the question of “historic wealth inequality,” most measures do show a high degree of income inequality in the United States in recent years. In 2016, the GINI coefficient — a measure of how unequal the income distribution is — hit a high going at least as far back as 1979. And another study of income inequality, by the World Inequality Database, found that the percentage of income taken by the top 1% rose from 10.7% in 1980 to 20.2% in 2014.

— Louis Jacobson


Jay Inslee: “The people who brought us the weekend (were) unions.”

This is largely correct.

After decades of skirmishing over capping regular workdays at eight hours, “demands for the five-day week began to proliferate in 1919, a year in which 4 million American workers went out on strike,” Priscilla Murolo, a professor of history at Sarah Lawrence College, told PolitiFact in 2015. “That was about 20 percent of the industrial labor force.”

It took President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 for all workers to see limits on working hours — initially 44 hours a week, then phased to 42 and eventually 40 by 1940. When the law was passed in 1938, Saturday working hours were still common, another labor relations expert told us.

Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., said that while Ford — the founder of the Ford Motor Co. — was an early proponent of the five-day week, “the American Federation of Labor fought for it to be adopted more widely via contract negotiations,” Anderson said. “Unions absolutely deserve much credit for the reform.”

— Louis Jacobson


Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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