What the 6 Democratic Candidates Could Mean for Your Money

DEM 2016 Iowa
Charlie Neibergall/APDemocratic presidential candidates, from left, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Lincoln Chafee.
By Linda Keslar

With the larger-than-life personalities that are the Republican candidates dominating the media spotlight as of late, it's easy to forget about that other political party -- you know, the Democrats. Perhaps that's because the Democratic race hasn't been as unpredictable as that of the GOP: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has yet to give up her lead, appearing unbeatable ... for now.

After all, it's still early in the race. Vice President Joe Biden hasn't officially announced his candidacy. And Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has shed his dark-horse status as more voters become intrigued by his populist stance.

So as a follow-up to the cheat sheet we brought you last month on the Republicans, here's a rundown on where the Democratic hopefuls stand on five key personal-finance issues -- from taxes to health care -- just in time for tonight's CNN debate.

They are listed in order of their average poll rankings as of Monday. Tune in tonight to see which candidate could win your vote -- and who might fall to the bottom of your ballot.

1. Hillary Clinton

Thousands of pages of her emails are being released every month as part of the ongoing investigation into her use of private email as secretary of state -- yet Clinton is "[still the] most likely nominee for the Democrats," says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

That said, Clinton's lead over Sanders is narrowing -- so tonight's debate will be crucial to this former FLOTUS hoping to become the next POTUS.

Here's where Clinton stands ...

Taxes: Wants to roll out a 39.6 percent short-term capital gains tax rate for top earners on investments held for up to two years (the current short-term capital gains period is one year) -- and a lower, sliding-scale rate (down to 20 percent) on investments held for at least six years. She'd also cap itemized tax deductions for higher earners at 28 percent.

Also proposes big banks pay a "risk fee" designed to discourage reckless financial practices on Wall St.

Jobs: Raise federal minimum wage to $12 an hour. Supports President Barack Obama's efforts to expand the definition of who qualifies for overtime. Also advocates for better paid family and medical leave policies.

Health care: Defender of the Affordable Care Act. Critical of what she sees as drug-industry price gouging -- with a proposal to cap out-of-pocket prescription costs at $250 a month.

Student loans: Her proposed $350 billion New College Compact plan would provide states with funding to help students pay for tuition, make community college free, cut student loan interest rates, cap loan payments at 10 percent of income -- and forgive loans after 20 years of payments.

"This would have an incredible impact on [enrollment numbers at] private universities, since she's advocating that the government subsidize tuition at public schools, so students don't have loans," says Donald Williamson, a professor and executive director of the Kogod Tax Center at American University.

Big-picture economy: Plans to invest federal funds in infrastructure, research and education. Also wants to make America a clean-energy leader by, for instance, installing more than half a billion solar panels across the country.

2. Bernie Sanders

The former Vermont mayor, congressman, and second-term senator's straight-talking ways have made him every progressive's hope for the White House.

"He's the left wing of the Democratic party -- very much a populist," says Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow in the governance studies program at the Brookings Institution. "He's the 'get corporations' guy, the pro-union guy -- and he's doing extremely well ... to the horror of Clinton."

Here's where Sanders stands ...

Taxes: Plans to create a progressive estate tax on people who inherit more than $3.5 million -- and apply a payroll tax on earnings above $250,000 a year to buoy Social Security.

Also proposes levying a small "Robin Hood" tax on Wall Street trading to help fund public tuition.

"So every time you trade a stock, there would be a fee -- [even] for individuals," Williamson says. "It's feasible in this day and age, and could be easily collected by brokerage houses."

Jobs: Raise minimum wage to $15 an hour, and invest $5.5 billion in a jobs program for young people. Would also require companies to provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.

And wants to put the kibosh on offshore corporate tax havens to keep jobs from going abroad.

Health care: Would transform the Affordable Care Act into a single-payer system funded by the federal and state governments. Wants to push Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices, as well as allow Americans to import lower-priced medications from Canada.

Student loans: With the help of the Robin Hood tax, would make tuition free at public colleges and universities. Also plans to help student loan borrowers refinance at lower rates.

Big-picture economy: Would spend $1 trillion over five years to improve America's infrastructure -- and break up "too big to fail" banks.

Also wants to create a U.S. Employee Ownership Bank that would provide loans to help workers buy businesses through employee stock ownership plans or worker-owned cooperatives.

3. Joseph Biden

Will he or won't he?

Apparently, many voters are hoping Biden's answer is "I will!" given his number three spot in the polls -- despite not having officially entered the race.

Until he decides later this month, his supporters are keeping his spot warm, in the hopes that a third presidential run will be the charm.

Here's where Biden stands ...

Taxes: Supports current White House plan geared toward the middle class, including improving tax breaks for middle-income earners, increasing taxes for those making more than $250,000 a year and closing loopholes for top-bracket investors.

In favor of a 0.07 percent tax on liabilities held by banks, in an effort to discourage them from taking on too much debt.

"That new bank tax could [raise a lot of revenue] since there are trillions of dollars being traded," Williamson says.

Jobs: Leads the White House's Ready to Work Initiative to help workers develop skills for higher-paying jobs. Supported Gov. Andrew Cuomo's push to raise New York's minimum wage to $15 per hour.

"He's been pro worker, pro union," says Baker, noting that Biden was a big proponent of Obama's proposal to raise the salary threshold for who qualifies for overtime.

Health care: Played key role in campaigning for the Affordable Care Act and raising public awareness around the health exchanges.

Student loans: Supports Obama's plan for two years of free community college. And was chair of the task force that created rules expanding income-based repayment plans and forgiving loans after 20 years.

Big-picture economy: Took the lead on implementing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a stimulus package aimed at promoting infrastructure projects across the country.

Will likely continue to run on White House platform of strengthening the middle class.

"I would expect he'd run on the Obama administration's record," Baker says. "That doesn't mean he has to say he'd back everything Obama did, but I'd expect that would be the main theme of his campaign."

4. Jim Webb

Despite the fact that Webb is a Vietnam War hero, former Virginia senator and author of 10 military-themed books, it's likely that many viewers will be getting their first glimpse of him at tonight's debate.

"We've heard little about him, so it's hard to take him seriously," Baker says.

That said, Webb knows a thing or two about being a long-shot -- he won his Senate seat by upsetting an incumbent Republican.

Here's where the more conservative Webb stands ...

Taxes: Favors raising capital-gains taxes -- but is against raising regular income taxes. Wants to reform and simplify the tax code to focus less on income and more on consumption.

Jobs: Webb's a lifetime union member, so he's pro labor and supports workers' collective bargaining rights. Also supports job training and creation through infrastructure spending programs, similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps created by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

"That's a common Democratic [platform] -- having some sort of universal national service," Kamarck says. "But you always run into trouble from organized unions with this, over fear of undercutting union jobs and pay."

Health care: Voted for the Affordable Care Act, but was critical of its implementation -- and voted for more than a dozen Republican-sponsored amendments to the bill.

Student loans: Was the only Democrat to vote against his party's 2012 bill to keep student-loan interest rates from doubling. Favors public service as an incentive for student-loan forgiveness -- as senator, he created a bill that expanded education benefits for veterans.

Big-picture economy: Supports cutting the federal budget and reducing the national debt. Advocates for the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

5. Martin O'Malley

The former Baltimore mayor and two-term Maryland governor is known for inspiring the ambitious politician character Tommy Carcetti on the HBO series "The Wire."

His biggest campaign hurdle, however, may be that "he's hard to distinguish from Clinton," Kamarck says. "[So] he wants to challenge Hillary from the left."

Here's where O'Malley stands ...

Taxes: In favor of raising capital-gains taxes, and supports a tax on Wall Street transactions. To expand Social Security, would lift the cap on the payroll tax for those earning more than $250,000.

Also isn't hesitant to raise taxes to fund government projects: As governor, imposed 40 new state taxes to help balance the budget -- like a "rain tax" on property owners to help fund storm-water management.

Jobs: Would raise minimum wage to $15, and increase the cap on overtime pay to $1,000 per week. Also plans to help cut the gender pay gap in half through paycheck-fairness laws and better access to family leave and affordable child care.

Health care: Advocated for the Affordable Care Act. As governor, overhauled the Maryland hospital system to an "all payer" model, in which all patients pay the same amount for services based on rates set by the state. Has said he'd like it to be a health care model for the entire country.

Student loans: Would allow borrowers to refinance student loans at lower rates, and automatically enroll grads in income-based repayment plans. Also believes private borrowers should be allowed to refinance into federal programs.

Big-picture economy: Wants to increase the number of Americans with adequate retirement savings by 50 percent over eight years by expanding Social Security and access to employer-based retirement plans.

Would revive the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated investment and commercial banking activities. And wants to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2050 through a clean-energy job corps.

6. Lincoln Chafee

Like Webb, the former mayor, governor and senator from Rhode Island has flown under the radar.

He's known for taking over his late father John Chafee's Senate seat in 1999, and for crossing multiple party lines -- he's been a Republican, an independent and a Democrat.

Here's where Chafee stands ...

Taxes: Would reduce tax cuts and loopholes for the wealthy and corporations -- and add a new 45 percent tax bracket for those earning more than $750,000. Those taxes would fund a $1,000 increase in the personal exemption.

Jobs: Plans to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10. Supports passage of a Paycheck Fairness Act to close the gender wage gap.

Health care: Supports the Affordable Care Act, but wants to expand it to provide universal coverage. As senator, wrote legislation that pushed for insurers to cover pre-existing conditions.

Student loans: Wants to make higher education more affordable by increasing Pell grants and reducing student-loan interest rates.

Big-picture economy: Supporter of immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship. Opposes the Keystone XL pipeline -- as an environmentalist, wants to reduce greenhouse gases.

But he's perhaps most infamous for his push to move the U.S. to the metric system.

"I don't think that would go very far," Baker says. "We did have a commitment to do that back in the '70s -- and people rebelled against it."
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