Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney says the 2020 election is going to be "fought in the center." The Democratic presidential primary candidate spoke on NHPR's The Exchange about several platforms he believes have bipartisan appeal, including a carbon tax, a comprehensive immigration reform package, and a plan for universal healthcare that includes options for private or supplemental insurance.
Watch: John Delaney on NHPR's The Exchange on 3/28/2019
Delaney left Congress after three terms in early 2019 to focus on his presidential bid. Before serving in public office, he founded two financial services companies, one lending to health-care companies and another catering to small and medium-sized businesses.
He was ranked as the 3rd wealthiest member of Congress in 2015. In order to meet the Democratic National Convention’s donor threshold to reach the debate stage, Delaney is encouraging support with a $2 charitable contribution per new donor. He’s said he’s funding his own campaigns through Iowa and New Hampshire; he’s visited all 99 counties in Iowa thus far and visited the Granite State more than 15 times since announcing his run in 2017.
Scroll down excerpts of the interview that highlight where Delaney stands on the issues. You can listen to the full conversation and read the full transcript here.
Note: Transcripts below were edited lightly for clarity
You’re for universal health care; you’ve called it a fundamental right. What's the difference between this and Medicare for all? And who pays for this plan?
Medicare for all basically says the government provides all the healthcare. My plan is different. I leave Medicare alone. I create a new plan that everyone gets as a right from when they're born until they're 65.
How is that different from the public option we saw during the Obamacare debate?
This is actually a basic health care package that everyone gets; they don't have to choose if they get it. And you roll Medicaid into that. So you'd have this new program from when you're born to when you're 65. Then you have Medicare for over 65. But if you don't want the government plan, you can opt out, get a small tax credit, and buy your own commercial insurance. Or you can take your government health care insurance and buy supplemental plans, just like what happens with Medicare. So I'm basically proposing a government backbone market where everyone gets health care as a right.
Everybody? No matter what their income level?
Everybody. No matter what their income level. But they also have the option of opting out, getting a tax credit, buying their own commercial insurance or buying supplementals to enhance their government plan. And I pay for that whole system; it's fully paid for in my proposal by eliminating the corporate deductibility of health care, which is about a $4 trillion tax exemption.
Would employers no longer provide health care benefits under this proposed plan?
They would, but they would provide it differently. So if you showed up at your employer, you would have your basic government plan. And I suspect what your employer would do is negotiate a group supplemental plan, using their buying power so that you would have an option through your employer to purchase a supplemental plan at an attractive price. And the way the supplemental providers would work is very similar to the way they work with Medicare. They would basically merge the plans together, and it would feel like you have one plan, because it would be administered by the supplemental provider. But whenever you have medical care, the bills would be paid through a combination of using your government insurance and your supplemental plan.
What do you think about the Green New Deal as a vehicle for Democrats to present climate change as a problem?
I think it's created a lot of excitement around doing something big on climate. I think my plan is a much better plan for addressing climate. My plan has three components to it. First, a carbon tax: I introduced the only bipartisan carbon tax bill in the Congress. I believe, in my first year as president, I can get it passed with all the Democrats and Republicans who live in coastal states. We put a price on carbon. All the money that gets collected we give back to the American people in a dividend. It's been modeled to cut carbon emissions by 90%.
Walk us through that: People hear 'carbon tax' and they think that's going to hurt the economy; it's going to cost me more to fill my car.
We put a price on carbon and it does raise energy prices, for fossil-fuel related energies. And then we collect all the money in a lockbox and then we write a check back to the American people in a dividend. So it goes out one pocket and in the other. But it encourages people to change behavior.
Couldn't they just take that extra money that you just sent them and use it to buy more gasoline?
But the price of gasoline would be higher so they'd actually have an incentive to buy cars that are more fuel efficient. So what their incentive would be is to take the check that they have, use it for something else and do something to lower their energy costs. There's evidence these things work because you create a financial incentive and human beings respond to financial incentives.
I can hear the ads from the other side right now: Congressman John Delaney is going to raise your cost of filling your gas tank. Politically speaking, is that a winning strategy?
Yes, because I think what we'll show them is that your price at the pump is going to go up, but you'll get a check every year from this government lockbox, if you will, equal to more than your price of fuel went up. And by the way, you can take your check in cash or we'll put it into a retirement account, Health Savings Account or Educational Savings Account on your behalf which is a tax-free savings account.
There are more than a dozen other Democratic candidates running for the nomination. How are you going to stand out?
I think my background is very different. I'm a blue collar kid, first in my family to go to college, was a successful entrepreneur, created thousands of jobs, youngest CEO on the New York Stock Exchange. And now I've rolled up my sleeves and served in the Congress of the United States. So I have kind of an unmatched set of expertise, which I think makes me very, very different. I also think my message, which is about solving problems and actually finding common ground and getting things done and bringing this terribly divided nation back together again—which I think is the central issue facing this country—I think that's not only exactly what our country needs at this moment in time, and I don't think anyone else is running on that, but I also think it's how we win. And I think by the fall of this year, all that Democrats are going to be focused on is how to beat Donald Trump.
Question from listener: Are you 'left' enough in this primary season, when everybody is trying to be more progressive than the next one?
I think the answer is yes. As the primary becomes closer, I think the most important thing for Democrats will be beating Donald Trump. I think now that the Mueller report is over, now that we're in a country where the economy is doing reasonably well, I think it's pretty obvious that the way you beat Donald Trump is with a more moderate centrist candidate. When we get closer to the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, I think people will appreciate that the president is going to turn out his voters, and he's going to do a good job turning out Democratic voters. We don't need a candidate to turn out voters; we're going to turn out against Donald Trump, so this election's going to be fought in the center.
What was your reaction last week when the Special Counsel Robert Mueller released his report and the Attorney General William Barr gave his summary?
We need to see the report. I have no reason not to trust the Attorney General but I've always believed: trust and verify. Every American should see this report. We're never going to be able to move on from this issue as a country unless there's full transparency. And I think the obstruction case was obviously a very close call for Mr. Mueller, and the Attorney General Barr used discretion in his decision with respect to obstruction. The American people deserve to see the facts themselves so that they can reach their own conclusion.
But your question was: How did I feel? At some level, I was happy not only that the report came out but I was actually happy that the President of the United States did not actively collude with a foreign power. I think every American should be happy about that. Do I think the President's behavior was presidential? Absolutely not. Do I think he did some unpatriotic things? Absolutely.
Question from listener: As a white, heterosexual male, what makes you more qualified than your more diverse/minority counterparts for president?
What makes me more qualified has nothing to do with the fact that I'm a white, heterosexual man. I think what's great about the Democratic field this time, is that we represent America. I think what's great about the field is that me running as a white person has no advantage—which I would have had 30-40 years ago. But I do believe I'm the best leader. And I do believe that Democratic primary voters are going to nominate someone who they think is the best leader for our country, and that has nothing to do with the color of my skin or my gender or my sexual orientation.
This week the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection said his agency has reached a "breaking point at the southern border.” There are record numbers of migrants arriving seeking asylum, and the agency is reluctantly releasing migrants into the U.S. because it just doesn't have the capacity to process so many people, according to the head of this agency. Why do you think this is happening?
I think it's happening because of what's going on in Central America. I was at the border about two months ago; we went into a legal aid center in Dilley, Texas, which is located next to the largest detention facility in the United States of America, where there were 17,000 women and children. So I heard firsthand from these moms sitting there with their children, why they were seeking asylum in our country. The story was always generally the same, which is that someone in their family was either killed or threatened to be killed by the gangs. And the gangs were completely in bed with law enforcement. So they had no recourse. So if you heard these stories, every single one of your listeners, if they were in that situation, I believe would leave one of those countries as well.
So what would be a 'President Delaney' approach toward this?
What I certainly wouldn't do is be threatening to cut foreign aid to these countries, which is what the President's doing. That will make the situation worse. So what President Delaney would do is lead a regional effort to help stabilize, which means really build civil institutions in these countries. Because unless we stabilize and create some framework for the rule of law to exist in these countries, we will not be able to stem the tide of people fleeing these countries and coming to our country seeking asylum.
Can the U.S. really do that? Create a stable environment? Especially since you send foreign aid and sometimes it's used effectively and sometimes it isn't.
You have to think about what your goals are. Your goals are to help these countries build some form of civil society. And the best way for the United States to do that is with foreign aid but working indirectly through non-governmental organizations, which have been proven to be much more successful in many of these countries -- nonprofits that actually help. Now that's not the only thing we've got to do.
Obviously we need comprehensive immigration reform like we almost had in 2013. I was in Congress. That was a huge missed opportunity -- the greatest missed opportunity I think I've ever seen. It passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis. It would have passed the House of Representatives if it ever got a vote and President Obama would have signed it into law. If that law had been passed, we would have spent tens of billions of dollars more on border security already. Because that was in the bill: smart border security. It would have created a pathway to legal status for the 11 million undocumented folks in our country, and we would have reformed our broken Visa system. And we would have been in a much better position on immigration.
What does that path to citizenship look like?
Under that bill [the comprehensive immigration reform in Congress in 2013], they would have to basically get to the back of the line. In other words, they'd have to register for citizenship; it would take them 13 years. They have to basically be crime-free for the 13 years or they will be subject to being deported for committing a crime, and they have to learn English. So I think it's appropriate that those folks who are undocumented actually have a rigorous process. But it totally makes sense for us as a country to put them on a path to legal status.