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Where Democratic Presidential Candidates Stand on Personal Debt

While the Democrats are running a much smaller field of potential nominees, they’re far more likely than Republicans to mention student loans in their platform.

Three of the five make specific (but broad) proposals on their websites, while only two Republicans have taken a stab at the issue. Retirement, taxes, and income inequality were other popular topics. Here’s what each candidate had to say…

Lincoln Chafee

On taxes: “Today’s system is stacked against too many American families. They play by all the rules; they are educated, often at great cost; they work hard all week, and are barely making ends meet. This is not right. As a U. S. Senator I voted against every Bush tax cut that favored the wealthiest and deepened the disparity between the few and the many.”

Hillary Clinton

On student loans: “Tuition costs keep rising, while state investment in higher education on a per-student basis has declined. As a result, students and families are borrowing more, and total student debt has surpassed $1.1 trillion. We will — finally and forever — make college affordable and available.”

On taxes: “Too many working families are struggling. We will provide tax relief to help those families keep up with the rising costs of child care, education, and health care.”

On the CFPB: “The financial lobby and Republicans in Congress have shown that they are committed to unraveling the key reforms the Dodd-Frank Act put in place to protect consumers and keep a crisis from happening again. We will defend Dodd-Frank against attacks and take additional steps to rein in banks that are still too big and too risky.”

On the minimum wage: “Minimum wage: A higher minimum wage doesn’t just help those at the bottom of the pay scale, it has a ripple effect across the economy and helps millions of American workers afford basic necessities.”

On small business: “Small business: We will launch a nationwide effort to cut red tape for small businesses at every level of government. It shouldn’t take longer to start a small business in the United States than it does in France, Canada, or South Korea. We will simplify tax filing and provide targeted tax relief for small businesses. And we will ease burdens on community banks that provide credit to small business owners and families looking to invest in their futures.”

On retirement: “Retirement: Working families should be able to save throughout their lives so that they can send their kids to college and retire with dignity. We will defend Social Security from Republican attempts to cut or privatize the program. And we will explore ways to enhance Social Security to meet new realities, particularly for women.”

On paid leave: “Paid leave: The United States is the only country in the developed world without paid leave of any kind. We will develop a national paid leave program so that no American has to choose between keeping their job and taking care of a new baby or a sick family member. And we will ensure that every American has access to paid sick days so that the common cold doesn’t mean a smaller paycheck.”

Martin O’Malley

On student loans: “All Americans with student debt – including both students and their parents – should be able to refinance their loans at lower rates. All student borrowers should be automatically enrolled in income-based repayment plans, with loan forgiveness options. Borrowers who do not wish to use repayment plans would be able to opt out of them while those with private loans should be able to refinance into federal programs.”

On the CFPB: “Today, most Republicans in Congress are hell-bent on disassembling the Dodd-Frank Act. And too many Democrats have been complicit in the backslide toward less regulation. As your megabanks grew in size, who gained from it? Credit card fees didn’t get smaller. Mortgage rates didn’t go down. The median wages of Americans certainly didn’t increase. Despite the 2008 meltdown on Wall Street, just five banks still control half of the industry’s $15 trillion in assets, and not a single executive was ever convicted of a crime. We must reinstate Glass-Steagall, empower regulators to hold law-breakers accountable, and break up big banks before they break us. We need stronger protections for American families, not billion-dollar banks.”

On the minimum wage: “Minimum wage: Americans are working harder but earning less than they did 12 years ago, and wealth has concentrated in the hands of the very few as almost never before. We must fight for better wages for all workers, so that Americans can actually live on what they earn. That means raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, increasing the threshold for overtime pay to $1,000 a week, and restoring workers’ collective bargaining power.”

On affordable education: “Our country was built on the belief that no matter who you are or where you were born, your hard work should pay off. But for too many of our children, that promise is out of reach from the very start. We must close the gap by making access to safe and affordable childcare and pre-K universal, and college debt-free for all. We should also modernize high school, empowering every student to graduate with a year of college credit, an apprenticeship, or a certificate or credential for a high-pay, high-skill job.”

On women’s rights: “We have to do more to make sure that women are treated fairly and compensated equally in the workplace. Maternity leave, paternity leave, equal pay, and safe and affordable child care are not luxuries.”

On retirement: “We know for a fact that 401(k)s won’t leave enough for many seniors to live on in retirement, especially after Wall Street’s meltdown took its toll on families’ savings. Rather than reducing Social Security benefits or privatizing them, we must expand benefits so all of our seniors can retire with dignity.”

Bernie Sanders

On student loans: “We need the best-educated workforce in the world if we’re going to compete effectively in the global economy. To do that, we must make certain that every person in this country who has the ability and desire can get all the education they need — regardless of the income of their family. That is why I’m introducing a revolutionary bill in the Senate which will end tuition at all public colleges and universities in the United States. This legislation will also significantly reduce the interest rate on student loans.”

On income inequality: “If you can believe it, between 2013 and 2015, the 14 wealthiest individuals in the country saw their net worth increase by over $157 billion dollars. We live in one of the wealthiest countries on earth, yet children go hungry, veterans sleep out on the streets and senior citizens cannot afford their prescription drugs. This is what a rigged economic system looks like.”

Jim Webb

On taxes: “I would agree that we cannot tax ourselves into prosperity. But we do need to reconfigure the tax code so that our taxes fall in a fair way. It is possible to simplify the tax code, including reducing the corporate tax rate in exchange for eliminating numerous loopholes, and to examine shifting our tax policies away from income and more toward consumption. We did not even have a federal income tax in this country until 1913. The loopholes and exceptions that have evolved have made a mockery out of true economic fairness. I would never support raising taxes on ordinary earned income, whether it goes to a school teacher or a nurse or a doctor or a film star. But we need to find a better way.”

On income inequality: “As our economy has recovered from the Great Recession, the stock market has nearly tripled, from 6443 in March of 2009 to more than 17,000 as of today. At the same time, study after study shows that real income levels among working people have suffered a steady decline since January of 2009. And not only for our workers – according to the Wall Street Journal, loans to small business owners, who traditionally have been the backbone of the American success story, have decreased by 18 percent since 2008, while overall business loans have increased by 9 percent. Many of our younger workers here in the United States are subject to complicated hiring arrangements that in many cases don’t even pay health care or retirement. If you make enough money to buy stocks, you’re probably doing OK these days. If you’re working in a successful company that provides stock options or bonuses in stocks, you’re probably doing pretty well. But if you’re spending all your income paying rent and putting food on the table and clothes on the backs of your kids, you’re probably living on the outer edge of the American Dream.”

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