Klobuchar promotes proposals to help seniors

Sen. Amy Klobuchar talks about her plans for Medicare and other issues at the AARP forum in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday. Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and three other Democratic presidential candidates outlined their proposals for Medicare and other issues at the AARP forum in Des Moines Monday.

The candidates took the stage separately to respond to questions and talk about policies. Klobuchar promoted her plan to offer up to $6,000 in annual tax credits to people who provide long-term care for family and friends. She said she would pay for the credits by taxing some trust funds.

"Wealthy people right now set up trust funds for their kids, I'm not talking about charitable trust funds and for the ones that are really big, like over $500,000 in value," Klobuchar said. "When they start gaining in value, they don't get taxed at all."

Klobuchar also proposed a tax on opioid manufacturers to fund mental health programs.

"Make the people that got people addicted in the first place pay for people to get the kind of treatment and mental health help that they need," Klobuchar said to the applause of her audience, most of whom were senior citizens.

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Joe Biden, who's also running for president, also called for caregiver tax credits. The former vice president and Klobuchar also defended their opposition to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for All" proposal. Both said forcing Americans to leave their private health insurance for a Medicare plan is unreasonable.

Instead, both support creating what's called a "public option" that would allow voluntary buy-in to a government health insurance program such as Medicaid or Medicare.

"It would concern me to kick half of America off their insurance in four years which is what the other plan specifically says," Klobuchar said.

Biden predicted a "bumpy road" for such a transition. He said a public option makes more sense in the short term.

"You can stay with your plan if you like it, you can stay with your employee-based plan, or you can move on. I think it's the quickest, most reasonable, rational and best way to get to universal coverage," Biden said.

Policy-wise, Biden and Klobuchar occupy the middle lane in the Democratic presidential nominating contest. But Biden is way ahead of Klobuchar in the polls.

Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford said despite her relatively low standing in polls — she's in sixth place in Iowa — Klobuchar should not be written off.

"I think she's still in," Goldford said.

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The Minnesota Democrat still trails front-runners in fundraising.

Klobuchar's campaign announced Monday evening that it raised less than $4 million in the second quarter of the year. That's a fraction of what some of the other contenders took in. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg collected nearly $25 million; Biden, more than $21 million; Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Sanders and Kamala Harris raised $19 million, $18 million and almost $12 million respectively.

Goldford said Klobuchar is a victim of the even-keeled way she presents herself that her supporters applaud.

"Sen. Klobuchar has to beware of that kind of trap being caught between, on the one hand not getting the press coverage she might want and on the other hand, having a message that is not the kind of inflammatory high-profile message that media like to cover," Goldford said.

Klobuchar says she's on track to meet the poll and fundraising thresholds to qualify for the third debate which will exclude several candidates.

"She's in really big trouble if she does not get into that third debate," Goldford said.

On Wednesday, Klobuchar will deliver a National Press Club speech in Washington, D.C., on priorities for her first 100 days as president.

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