CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Sen. Bernie Sanders challenged Hillary Clinton on Friday over her refusal to increase payroll taxes to expand family leave, arguing that alternative approaches would jeopardize funding for the proposed benefit.
"Here is an area where Secretary Clinton and I have a different point of view," he said in a short speech at the DoubleTree Hotel. "She has talked in vague and general terms about the need for paid family leave and medical leave. She has not described how she will pay for it."
Both Clinton and Sanders support paid family leave, which has emerged as a prominent consensus issue in the Democratic platform for 2016. But they do differ on how to pay for it: Sanders has called for raising payroll taxes on workers and employers by 0.2 percent to put in place up to 12 guaranteed weeks of leave to care for a sick loved one or to recover from a health crisis.
That's in line with legislation proposed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Clinton, on the other hand, has instead proposed raising the revenue on the wealthy as part of a pledge not to increase taxes on the middle class — and she has used the difference to go after Sanders.
"I'm the only candidate running, in either party, who will tell you my goal, my pledge, is to raise incomes, not taxes, on the middle class," Clinton said in a speech in Des Moines earlier this week.
That's not true — almost the entire Republican field has pledged not to raise taxes and every major contender has released proposals along those lines. But it does set up a contrast with Sanders, who argued that more a broad-based tax "enshrines" middle class benefits and keeps them from being gutted down the line. He estimated the average cost to a worker under his plan would be $1.61 a week.
"If Lyndon Baines Johnson had taken the same position as Secretary Clinton that a small payroll tax was unacceptable, we would not have Medicare in this country," Sanders said.
The Sanders event was billed as a "press conference," but bizarrely the senator took no questions from the media. After finishing his remarks, he asked if reporters had questions, paused for just under two seconds and, before anyone could respond, moved on to an audience member before quickly leaving. Approached by an NBC News reporter outside the venue with a question about Maine Gov. Paul LePage, he replied "Okay, not like this" and moved on to his car.