Las Vegas Sun

June 18, 2024

Caucus 2008:

Top-dog Dems look the same — until you drill down

How they would tackle education, immigration, Yucca Mountain, health care and online gaming would affect all of us in Nevada

More on the Candidates

2008 Caucus Coverage

The three front-runners in the Democratic presidential race are in general agreement on some of the biggest issues facing the country.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama favor health insurance for everyone, seek reform of the No Child Left Behind Act, oppose the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository and want comprehensive immigration reform.

But there is nuance to their views on these issues, and outright disagreement on others. What follows are summaries of the candidates’ positions on six key issues.

Economy and foreclosures

Concern about the economy -- which has moved to the forefront of the nation’s conversation -- is especially acute in Nevada, which leads the nation in the rate of foreclosures. Economists say the foreclosure crisis is leading to a credit crunch that could help spur recession; some say Nevada is in an early recession.

The Bush administration last month negotiated a bail-out plan with lenders that has been criticized as too limited: It freezes the interest rates for certain borrowers for five years -- providing relief for some homeowners but leaving out most homeowners at risk of foreclosure.

Clinton: Freeze interest rates for all subprime borrowers for five years, send $30 billion in relief to communities affected by foreclosures to pay for financial counseling and legal assistance and help communities offset the social costs of foreclosure. Encourage mortgage backers Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, as well as state housing finance agencies, to help homeowners refinance unworkable mortgages.

Edwards: Freeze interest rates for all subprime borrowers for seven years. Adjust bankruptcy laws to allow homeowners to renegotiate their loans. Require lenders to negotiate with borrowers facing foreclosure. Create a government fund to provide temporary payments or bridge loans for families in trouble. Improve government oversight of lending companies.

Obama: A government fund for foreclosure relief, including $10 billion for immediate foreclosure counseling and loan refinancing and $10 billion for community services. Adjust bankruptcy laws to allow homeowners to renegotiate their loans. Improve enforcement and regulations to reduce foreclosure fraud. Identify consumer-friendly credit cards.

Alexandra Berzon

Universal health care

The topic is especially relevant in Clark County with the proposed merger of the state’s largest health insurance company, Sierra Health Services, with national behemoth UnitedHealth Group. If unconditionally approved by the U.S. Justice Department, the merger would give United a large enough market share to raise the cost of premiums and lower reimbursement payments to doctors, opponents say.

The three presidential candidates promise to introduce public health plans that can improve competition and rein in insurance companies by regulating their premiums and barring them from refusing patients because of preexisiting conditions.

That is easier said than done because radical reforms are fraught with political pitfalls.

About 47 million Americans are without health insurance, and the cost of their care is borne by the entire system.

Clinton: People can keep their existing coverage, choose from private health care options provided to members of Congress or pick a public plan similar to Medicare. Emphasize prevention and technology improvements. The government should fund independent research to compare the effectiveness of drug treatments.

Edwards: All Americans should be insured by 2012: Businesses would cover employees or help pay for their insurance; the government would increase federal support of Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and states would create nonprofit purchasing groups that offer a choice of competing insurance plans to promote affordable care and offer options between public and private plans. His plan would require new revenue.

Obama: Improve technology to reduce waste and prevent errors, saving a typical American family $2,500 a year. Improve prevention and care for chronic conditions; increase insurance industry competition and reduce profits, and offer a national health plan for individuals -- with subsidies for middle-class families -- that will turn no one away and provide all essential services. Unlike his opponents, Obama would not force people to get health insurance.

Marshall Allen


The federal No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush’s education reform law, requires schools to show that “adequate yearly progress” has been made by their students, including minorities and children from low-income families. The goal is to have 100 percent of students performing at least at grade level in reading, writing and math by the 2013-14 academic year.

The Clark County School District has struggled under the law, but this year was the only one of the nation’s five largest urban districts to make “adequate progress.”

Schools that fail to meet the annual benchmarks face sanctions, including loss of funding and potential state takeover. Republicans say the law has brought accountability to classrooms and raised professional standards for teachers. Democrats say the law has never been adequately funded, making it impossible for individual districts to meet the many demands.

The law is up for reauthorization this year.

Clinton: Excessive standardized testing stunts student creativity. The law must be overhauled and full funding must be reinstated for career and technical education, college preparation and mentoring programs. Funding is also needed to help reduce class sizes in the nation’s most crowded urban districts.

Edwards: The law’s measure of academic success must be broadened beyond standardized tests. States must have flexibility in implementing reforms. Teachers working in high-poverty schools should get $5,000 bonuses. A national teacher university should be created to recruit and train top college students for jobs in schools and subject areas with the highest need.

Obama: Improved assessments are needed to accurately and fairly track student progress. The law must be fully funded, so that the accountability system supports schools in need of improvement, rather than just handing down sanctions. Math and science should be national priorities, summer learning opportunities should be expanded and English-language learners should get help.

Emily Richmond

Nuclear power and Yucca Mountain

The Democratic front-runners oppose the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository.

But there’s no such consensus about the role of nuclear power plants in supplying America’s future energy needs.

Clinton: Calls herself “agnostic” on the question, but has questioned a growing role for nuclear power if there is uncertainty about how to deal with its radioactive waste.Edwards: Opposes nuclear power because of uncertainty about how to dispose of the waste.

Obama: Explore nuclear power as a part of the energy mix.

Phoebe Sweet

Internet gambling

The federal government has long considered Internet gambling illegal, though many gambling advocates say the law against it -- designed to combat bookmaking activities by the mob in the 1960s -- didn’t envision the Internet and applies only to sports betting.

A few big companies like MGM Mirage and Harrah’s Entertainment have supported efforts to legalize Internet gambling, but the concept lacks broad support.

The American Gaming Association has been reluctant to push for legalization, instead supporting a bill to study whether Internet gambling can be regulated. Some say this is a necessary first step so the enterprise can gain legitimacy.

The association represents land-based casinos rather than the companies now operating Web casinos from offshore, locations far from the reach of U.S. regulators.

Though the right to gamble has never been a pressing issue for most Americans and it may be years before Congress takes up the issue again, some industry experts say legalization is inevitable because of the potential tax revenue now going offshore to a thriving underground economy.

Clinton: Supports the industry’s position: to study Internet gambling to see whether it can be fairly regulated so that individuals can safely participate in it and American businesses can compete in the international market.

Edwards: Opposes legalization, doubting it can be controlled.

Obama: Worries that the Internet is “a Wild West of illegal activity”; supports a study of Internet gambling and supports regulation to address the worst abuses.

Liz Benston


Estimates put the number of undocumented immigrants in the Las Vegas Valley at 75,000 to 150,000; many have family members who are citizens among the valley’s 450,000-plus Hispanics.

Little separates the candidates on the question of immigration; each calls for the kind of comprehensive immigration reform that withered in Congress last year:

a pathway to legalizing many of the nation’s estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants, plus stronger law enforcement and border protection and a plan for future workers.

That proposal would have allowed millions of undocumented immigrants to become citizens if they paid a fine and learned English. It also would have strengthened borders and created a program for future workers.

Clinton and Obama voted for the bill in June.

Timothy Pratt

To see more issues and how the Democratic candidates stand on them, check out the Sun's caucus guide.

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