Election 2020

Klobuchar Breaks With Progressives on Free College, Green New Deal

The Minnesota senator says the national debt constrains policymaking, giving the rare impression of a candidate who has actually thought things through.


Glen Stubbe/TNS/Newscom

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) took a careful but deliberate step towards the political center on Monday night by showing skepticism about progressive proposals like the Green New Deal and free college tuition for all, while pointing to the looming threat of America's growing national debt as a major constraint on policymaking.

Her appearance on an hour-long town hall event hosted by CNN's Don Lemon is likely to alienate her campaign from the ascendant left wing of the Democratic Party in some ways, but Klobuchar's hesitance to support huge new entitlement programs will set her apart in a crowded field of 2020 presidential hopefuls in and is a welcome nod toward fiscal sanity. At the very least, it gives the impression that she has given serious thought to the important question of how to pay for the myriad promises that her fellow candidates have been making in the early primary season.

The most striking example of Klobuchar's relatively disciplined stance came during a question posed by a college student, Griffin Sinclair-Wingate, who said he graduated from college in 2017 and pays more towards his student loans each month than his rent. He asked whether she would support free four-year college tuition for all, including for undocumented and formerly incarcerated individuals.

After a bit of meandering about wanting to make it easier for college grads to refinance their student loan debt and called for expanding eligibility for federal Pell grants, Klobuchar gave a straight answer.

"No, I am not for free four-year college for all," Klobuchar said. "If I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would…I've gotta tell the truth. We have a mountain of debt that the Trump administration keeps making worse and worse, and I don't want to leave that on the shoulders of these kids too."

During the 2016 campaign, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) estimated the cost of free college tuition for all to be about $75 billion annually. With the country facing a $22 trillion (and growing) national debt, it seems crazy to create a program with an annual price tag that large when the total student loan debt held by Americans is about $1.5 trillion. Sure, that's a significant hit to many younger Americans, but Klobuchar's well-taken point on Monday night is that today's college kids won't be helped by free tuition if they graduate into the early stages of a debt crisis.

Asked more directly about the national debt later in the program, Klobuchar showed some basic policy chops there as well. She called for raising the cap on payroll taxes that fund Social Security—right now, those taxes apply only to the first $128,400 earned annually—and reconsidering the 2016 corporate income tax cuts, though she stopped short of calling for a full repeal and a return to the previous rates. Those are neither revolutionary nor fully adequate solutions for the size of the problem, but they are certainly better than pretending it does not exist.

Mindfullness of the nation's precarious longterm fiscal standing seems to inform Klobuchar's skepticism towards other top Democratic initiatives too. While supporting Medicare for All as "something we can look to in the future," Klobuchar said Monday that her preference would be to build on the Affordable Care Act by creating a new public option plan within Medicaid that individuals and families could buy into, either as a replacement for, or in addition to, the state-level insurance exchanges.

On the Green New Deal, Klobuchar said some of the plan's goals were more aspirational than realistic—intended to "get this debate going," she said. "Do I think we can cross every 'T' and dot every 'I' in 10 years? Actually, I think that would be very difficult to do."

That's not the full embrace that many other Democratic contenders have given it, but in this instance Klobuchar doesn't come off looking as good. If she's skeptical the Green New Deal can accomplish its goals—and there's plenty of reasons to be skeptical—then why support such a massive expansion of government spending and the disruption of several whole industries in the name of merely continuing the debate over climate change?

By no means did Klobuchar come out of Monday's townhall looking like a fiscal conservative. The vision she outlined for a Klobuchar administration would almost surely see greater government spending on health care, education, and infrastructure. She called for new government programs to combat climate change and the opioid epidemic. She said the long-term debt crisis can be solved without making any major changes to Social Security.

Still, in this Democratic primary there was plenty that set Klobuchar apart. Whether that's a good thing for her remains to be seen. Despite a massive edge in money and establishment support, Hillary Clinton struggled to win in 2016 as Democratic voters fell for Sanders' pie in the sky plans for free everything. This time around, the left lane of the Democratic primary seems more crowded—and that was before Sanders officially joined the circus on Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, with former Vice President Joe Biden still on the sidelines, there is no obvious frontrunner in the centrist category. There's no longer any doubt that's where Klobuchar is aiming.

NEXT: Once a Critic of Executive Power, Trump Is Now Taking Us Closer to Rule by Decree

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  1. She promises to treat the national debt as badly as she treats her employees!!

    1. Ugh, more sexist attacks. “She throws objects at her staffers so she’s a bad person!” A male politician wouldn’t be criticized for something so trivial.

      1. Bob Packwood kissed his staffers and he had to leave.

        1. Still wishing his parents had names him Richard.

      2. I would argue that yes, throwing objects at people under your employ indeed makes you a ‘bad person’ and isn’t ‘trivial’. What your comment suggests (imo) is that because the senator is a woman she should be granted immunity from criticism of what is universally considered a lack of appropriate boundaries in an adult and/or employer. Does it disqualify her from running for president? We’re a Constitutional republic so the electorate decide.

    2. Chris Stigall has started calling her “Mommie Dearest.” This morning he played the wire hanger scene from the movie.

  2. I suppose the debt is kind of important. But when evaluating Democratic candidates I’m most interested in their views on immigration. Do they want to #AbolishICE? Do they not only oppose Drumpf’s racist wall idea, but also want to tear down structures that are already in place?

    These are the questions we Koch / Reason libertarians need to focus on.

    1. Time for me to join the chorus: OBL, the question your Koch / Reason libertarian ass needs to focus on is getting some new material.

      1. He’s been remarkably consistent.

        1. You misspelled “boring”

          1. borecistent?

            1. OBL just take positions opposite of libertarians. It’s funny that s/he thinks all libertarians are pro-wall.

              I think it’s some media project on OBL’s part, to be honest.

    2. How can a wall be racist? Its a wall. Just a wall.

  3. Klobuchar campaign website

    She has no political positions listed on her website. She has a few positions listed in a letter but nothing substantial telling us why we would never vote for her.

    1. Less is more?

    2. Eh, you wouldn’t like her opinions anyway.

      1. Now I have to guess as to why I don’t like them.

    3. Worked for Obama!

  4. MAGA!

    Trump reelected 2020.

    1. More laughable predictions from the “Red Wave” clown.

      1. OBL troll is getting more active after Palins Buttplug troll got banned.


        1. OBL needs some new material.

          1. Revolting Arthur does too.

            1. Haven’t heard from him for a while either; I’m sure it had nothing to do with my accusing him of diddling with himself while reading angry comments

  5. If I thought any candidate actually would constrain spending and actually try like the devil to get a balanced budget amendment in place, with teeth, and that was the number one priority, I would vote for them regardless of everything else, because constrained spending makes impossible all the Green New Deals, free college, single-payer, free this that and the other schemes every other candidate is proposing.

    Even if they wanted an amendment to overturn Citizens United — because I do not think such an amendment can be crafted which would help the Progressive media while hurting all unwoke media.

    Even if they wanted to confiscate every gun in the country, because I do not believe the country would go along with that, and worst case, all the gun loving states would convene a constitutional convention.

    But I do not believe any candidate will be that serious about constraining spending.

    1. How I came to appreciate Ron Paul way back in the day… The gold standard sounded nutty at the time, but he was the only one who really cared about the debt and impact of unrestrained spending.

  6. then why support such a massive expansion of government spending and the disruption of several whole industries in the name of merely continuing the debate over climate change?


  7. Reason’s actually making me like a Democratic candidate.

    Klobuchar – she throws things at staff and humiliates them *and* can, sort of, kind of, sometimes, say no. Ver, ver strict.

  8. The best method of entitlement reform is to tell the truth about the income tax, and repeal the legal tender laws, and laws against gold and other non fiat contracts. Unfortunately, there is no leadership on this, even from libertarians. While Ron Paul certainly understands the money issue, even he does not understand the income tax. The question of how to bind down the government with the chains of the Constitution requires out of the box thinking, which there is very little extant.
    The taxing clauses of the Constitution, defining direct taxes as requiring apportionment among the States, while imposts, duties and excises must be uniform, were not repealed by the 16 Amendment. The Amendment merely corrected a bad Supreme Ct decision that confused the issue, by declaring that incomes were taxable indirectly regardless of the source. However, that did not change or expand the power of the federal government to tax “new or excepted subjects”. Taxes on property ( your money) still must be apportioned.
    The income tax as it is collected today (since post World War II) is an exercise in deception. The only way to end the deception is to understand and speak the truth. Liberty depends on it. http://Www.losthorizons.com

  9. During the 2016 campaign, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) estimated the cost of free college tuition for all to be about $75 billion annually.

    Wait, Bernie actually realizes that “free” shit isn’t really free? I’m shocked! Maybe Bernie can be coaxed into taking the next step in his economic analysis here and grasp the idea that as cost goes down, demand goes up and that if somebody else is paying for it money is no object. “Free college for all” isn’t going to cost $75 billion, it’s going to cost two buttloads of money plus your wristwatch. The whole goddamn reason college is so expensive in the first place is because the government’s subsidizing it and therefore nobody gives a shit how much it costs, you senile old retarded dingbat.

    1. Compared to the $22 TRILLION DEBT, free college for all seems like nothing! Just gotta look at this in perspective.

  10. Hey, Reason: say something about Lara Logan. She is a turn coat and must be destroyed.

    1. Hear here!

  11. Despite a massive edge in money and establishment support, Hillary Clinton struggled to win in 2016 as Democratic voters fell for Sanders’ pie in the sky plans for free everything.

    I wonder though whether it was Sanders policies more then Hillary just being a two faced liar whom no one could trust.

    1. Ask Jim Webb or Martin O’Malley

    2. It was pretty obvious to me during the 2016 DNC election that there was a HUGE contingent of “Never Hillary” voters out there. The DNC knew this and that’s why Sanders was the only person running against her. Thus, he picked up a HUGE number of protest votes that he won’t get this time around.

  12. So Amy is the kinda normal (sounding) kid on the short bus?

  13. Start working at home with Google. It’s the most-financially rewarding I’ve ever done. On tuesday I got a gorgeous BMW after having earned $8699 this last month. I actually started five months/ago and practically straight away was bringin in at least $96, per-hour. visit this site right here……. http://www.2citypays.com

  14. I do not support no-charge college education and know few, if any, Democrats who support such an approach.

    I support ready access to education, however, and strong public education in particular. With respect to college, repayment based on a percentage of earnings after departing campus could constitute an important part of funding higher education. A few percent annually, over the course of a 40-year career, could benefit students and the educational system.

    Universal health care seems unavoidable, especially because those who oppose it seem to have no answers and demonstrate little if any interest in developing another approach.

    I expect environmental protection to continue to be important among educated, influential, and young audiences. Those who advocate a head-in-the-sand approach are unlikely to be successful.

    1. Universal health care seems unavoidable, especially because those who oppose it seem to have no answers and demonstrate little if any interest in developing another approach.

      False. Give more general authority to nurse practitioners. Make more (or all) drugs OTC. Give pharmacists prescription-writing authority. Certify more medical schools. Allow the sale of insurance across state lines. Create an individual tax deduction for health insurance premiums.

      1. Devise and implement a better plan, or plan on getting your single-payer card in the relatively near future.

        If someone has a better idea, I hope it gets publicized and support for it develops soon.

        1. A better plan than increasing the supply of medical practitioners, medical treatments, and medical schools, while opening up a nationwide market on insurance and allowing people to deduct the cost of their massive healthcare premiums?

          Arthur L. Hicklib’s comment reveals all we need to know about how sincere proglydytes are about not implementing a communist healthcare system.

          1. It’s just another proggie power-grab. They don’t give a shit about actually improving people’s lives, they just want power and to be seen by their peets as “someone very concerned about the well-being of others.”

    2. The problem is there’s a huge gap between “What citizens want” and “What politicians want”. We know that we need to cut out the layers between you and your doctor, but that’s a total non-starter for politicians, because their graft comes from those layers.

  15. The national debt constrains policy-making? Since when? We’re $22T in the hole and Congress hasn’t missed a step.

    1. Exactly, plus we need to start building the train to Hawaii

  16. Looks like Reason has found its gal

    1. It’s all B.S. window dressing. If she’s elected, she’ll be as much of a prog as the rest of them.

  17. Perhaps this is too cute by half but why don’t small government, fiscally driven state politicians call the buff of the progressives.

    Propose legislation that eliminates college tuition for any person accepted to a state college who has resided in the state for, say 7 years, to avoid swamping the system at first. Calculate the current population of in state students and assess an income tax increase to fund it. Since the states ostensibly “own” the college order them to freeze tuition and make ends meet. We can eliminate the bursars office.

    The tax increase will be so prohibitive that no one will vote for it. They would be run out of office.

    For example there are roughly 100,000 students enrolled in CT public institutions. It is $35,000 all in to attend UConn, less for other 4 year and Community colleges. Assuming an average cost of even $20,000 and only 80,000 students who meet the “7 year test” the tax hit is $1.6 Billion per year whith other funding continued at the same rate.

    That effectively triples the current budget shortfall and would require a significant tax increase over and above the current 6.99% flat rate.

    I am so tired of the “We can afford it if we try” trope. I say put up or shut up.

    1. I’d say the same thing to conservatives. Come up with a good plan to fund higher education or get ready to whine a lot after others try to address the problem.

      1. Come up with a good plan to fund higher education or get ready to whine a lot after others try to address the problem.

        State budgets can’t handle the cost load (blue California can’t even fund it’s fucking bullet train or a state healthcare plan), and you think a federal solution exists to mitigate the exponential increase in tuition costs?

        Sure, let’s ignore the effects of scale on America’s college system, particularly in its administrative infrastructure, and pretend that MMT is going to solve the problem.

        1. One possible solution: Stop demonizing community colleges and belittling those who attend them. Two years at home before you head off to ExpensU is a viable option.

          1. Yes. Plus

            1. Stop pushing the simple-minded “college for everyone” plan and promote vocational and tech training.

            2. Distribute college aid based on earning potential. We have thrown enough tax money down the holes inhabited by students with financially useless degrees now working as baristas and complaining about their loans.

            3. Offer (not require) a year or three of national service for young people who want “free” higher education.

      2. Stop subsidizing useless services and more administrators. The cost of education has ballooned over the past three decades but all that’s really resulted in is higher salaries for the people at the top, more administrative positions, more debt fur students, and a lot more degrees that aren’t worth anything.

        1. And start with [elimination of] Title IX enforcement, along with deans of diversity and inclusion.

      3. “I’d say the same thing to conservatives….”

        How about this. 4 year college is not necessary for everyone. If you want that education, save your money. Go for it. If we think everyone should have a 4 yr degree, then why stop there? Maybe everyone should also own a 3 BR home?

  18. What’s left unsaid in the “free college and healthcare for all!!” hosannas is the question of actual cost. AOC clearly doesn’t care because she thinks we can print our way to free unicorns, with no corresponding affects on inflation whatsoever. Bernie at least tries to come up with a dollar amount, but even that is ridiculously optimistic because no one addresses the decades-long annual cost increases, again enabled by inflation, because none of these imbeciles have bothered remembering their 8th-grade math lessons on how exponential functions work. Even Australia’s vaunted payment system for college graduates relies heavily on foreign student tuition to make up the difference. In Europe, students are tracked to ensure that someone who can’t read above a 4th-grade level doesn’t water down the academic pool in college, and is directed towards service or blue-collar work instead.

    Short of no-kidding price controls on healthcare charges and college tuition, these people are basically promising a Zimbabwean future.

  19. People with hyphenated last names should be able to afford their tuition themselves.

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  21. A half-way sane Democrat. Probably the first to be pushed out after the first polls come in. Especially if it looks like she may grab some traction.

  22. She’s going to dramatically raise taxes and also spending, but will somehow tackle the national debt.

  23. “… by showing skepticism about progressive proposals like the Green New Deal and free college tuition for all, while pointing to the looming threat of America’s growing national debt as a major constraint on policymaking.”

    No pie in the sky; well that certainly was a short campaign

  24. “No, I am not for free four-year college for all,” Klobuchar said. “If I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would…I’ve gotta tell the truth. We have a mountain of debt that the Trump administration keeps making worse and worse, and I don’t want to leave that on the shoulders of these kids too.”

    I want them to start saying they’ll be like Europe. “Free” college for all (who pass the very rigorous entrance exams).

    I don’t want this, mind you. I just want them to start saying it to deflate the enthusiasm a bit.

  25. Oh, come on. Showing her hoisting a brew is obviously designed to make us like her.

    1. Trump’s teetotaling makes me hate him even more than I would naturally.

  26. How much would education cost? Ask California; their budget was arranged to some years ago. The Pentagon has “lost” 21 trillion dollars. I know, well spent protecting National Security…heh? A guy in Las Vegas can place a Hellfire Missile on any doorknob in Kabul; I suspect we could cut down on a little of our beautiful military; maybe put some of our finest young persons to work on infrastructure. Train up as carpenters, construction workers, electricians and plumbers. If the adrenaline is not enough, put them to work on high steel. This country is enormously wealthy, but when you will never have enough, you will always want it all. We have enough to insure our future; how are we spending it?

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  30. Tax the hell out of banks and stock transactions, jack the top tier tax rates, eliminate the cap on SSA taxes and apply them to ALL income, and cut military spending. You could pay for all of the “wish list” and more with that – say some infrastructure spending?

  31. Ahh yes, with time she might be as fiscally conservative as Republicans who give huge tax breaks to the insanely welcome and add 2 trillion to the deficit. Hooray.

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