Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is running for president on a policy agenda of lowering prescription drug costs, expanded savings accounts to help people save for their educations, and a slew of Internet-related policies, including expanding rural broadband and tougher privacy laws, according to aides to the senator.
Klobuchar, who has withheld her support from the more liberal proposals made by Democratic lawmakers, will also push for automatically registering all eligible voters, an overhaul of election security, and committing the United States to the Paris agreement to combat climate change, aides said.
Klobuchar’s campaign announcement was complicated by allegations about her treatment of Senate staff. But she has won praise from more centrist Democrats and even some Republicans on her campaign launch. A report in The Daily Beast on Monday also highlighted Klobuchar’s “tough on crime” approach as a prosecutor from 1999 to 2007.
“[Klobuchar] is very realistic about the difficulties in legislating, and goes out of her way to find bipartisan support for her initiatives,” said Gene Kimmelman, president and CEO of Public Knowledge, a consumer protection advocacy group. “The drawback is that [her policies] are not the headline-catcher, but are often important incremental reform.”
Here’s a look at the policy agenda Klobuchar is hoping will power her to the White House in 2020.
Prescription drug reform. Spending on prescription drugs per person in the United States, adjusted for inflation, has ballooned from $90 in 1960 to $1,025 in 2017, according to Kaiser Family Foundation data. Specialty drugs in the U.S. can cost as much as $800,000. More than half the country believes bringing down prescription drug prices should be a “top priority” for Congress and President Trump, with 72 percent saying pharmaceutical companies have too much influence, according to polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Klobuchar has tried working with Republicans in Congress in an effort to bring prices down. With Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Klobuchar has pushed to allow for the importation of less expensive prescription drugs from Canada, as well as pushing to lift the ban on negotiations for cheaper drugs under Medicare Part D. (There’s now an explicit prohibition preventing the federal government from negotiating for lower prices under the program.)
“Each of these proposals is an important piece of moving the needle on drug prices, though it will take a lot of proposals to make any difference," said Robin Feldman, a professor of law at UC Hastings who specializes in prescription drug issues. "It’s a good start, but none alone would change what you and I pay at the pharmacy.”
Klobuchar also has legislation that would allow the federal government to block anti-competitive “pay to delay” settlements. Under these agreements, brand-name drug producers pay producers of generic drugs to delay the marketing of their products.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has released a more aggressive plan to combat the high-cost prescription drugs, calling for the government to start producing drugs once they rise above a certain level of affordability.
“[Klobuchar] has been as active as any of them on pharmaceutical cost issues‚” said Chris Jennings, founder and president of Jennings Policy Strategies, of Klobuchar’s attention to prescription drugs. “The breadth of her policies are significant.”
Tax savings accounts. Klobuchar has also introduced legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), that would expand existing savings accounts to allow Americans to use them for a broader array of programs.
The legislation would allow taxpayers to use “529” accounts to save money for technical and vocational education programs, in addition to traditional four-year colleges.
Some critics on the left question the utility of the proposal, noting that the wealthy are the primary beneficiaries of the 529 program.
“The tax breaks provided to tax-advantaged savings accounts overwhelmingly flow to the rich and do not appear to incentivize people to save any more than they already would,” said Matt Bruenig, founder of the People’s Policy Project, a socialist think tank.
“Prepare for the digital disruption.” In a policy statement, Klobuchar’s aides also pushed changes aimed at addressing what they call “digital disruption.” “To encourage innovation in today’s digital economy we must put new rules of the road in place to protect Americans’ privacy and our networks and infrastructure,” the document states.
Klobuchar, a member of the Senate judiciary and commerce committees, has introduced legislation with Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) that would protect online data, including by ensuring users “can see what information about them has already been collected,” according to the Verge.
Klobuchar also has a bill her office says would expand high-speed rural broadband to all households by 2022, in part with direct federal support, according to aides. Klobuchar has been “our champion” in promoting tougher antitrust laws in challenging consolidation, said Kimmelman, of Public Knowledge.
“Klobuchar has been a leader in promoting affordable broadband for rural America, which is an enormous need, as well as leading efforts to create greater transparency of private information used on digital platforms,” Kimmelman said.
Rejection of liberal planks. Klobuchar has not signed onto a plan from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to create a universal single-payer health-care system, which would virtually eliminate private insurance while adding everyone in the country to Medicare.
Several of the other 2020 candidates — including Warren and Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) — have co-sponsored Sanders’s plan, making Klobuchar something of an outlier. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is also eyeing a presidential bid, has not endorsed Sanders’s Medicare-for-all plan.
Klobuchar has said she believes in universal coverage for all Americans, starting by lowering the age of eligibility for Medicare to 55. According to CNN, she said she supported a more gradual pathway to Medicare-for-all to avoid “drastically in just a few years ... changing our entire insurance system,” noting about half the country receives private insurance.
She has also supported making college “affordable,” stopping short of supporting Senate Democratic proposals to make college tuition-free. A Klobuchar aide pointed to her support for a bill introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) that would make community colleges tuition-free. The aide added that Klobuchar supports slowing increases to college loan rates, allowing students to refinance loans at lower rates, and expanding a tax credit for post-high-school education.
Green New Deal, rejoining Paris accords. Klobuchar also endorsed, albeit later than her 2020 rivals, the idea of a “Green New Deal,” which aims to massively invest in renewable and alternative energy sources, while creating millions of new jobs, in an attempt to avert climate change.
Klobuchar would also rejoin the international Paris climate accord on her first day in office, while also reinstating President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, according to her aides.
Elections security, campaign finance. Klobuchar has called for a slew of election-related changes, including additional cybersecurity to prevent election fraud, more transparency in online political ad spending, and overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court case, which allows unions and corporations to spend unlimited sums on campaigns. She has also introduced legislation to automatically register eligible voters when they turn 18.