Reality Check: The presidential candidates and the issues that matter

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It might seem like the presidential campaign is being fought in 140 character tweets. But beyond the bluster and the quips, there is policy at stake. Hillary Clinton is known as a policy wonk. Her website is filled with detailed plans, while Trump has to be evaluated on what he says on the stump, leaving many to speculate on what he’d try to do if elected.

KCRW’s To the Point is spending five days looking closely at how the candidates match up on the issues — critical listening before you vote.

Reality Check: Parental leave and childcare

The US is one of the only countries on Earth without some nationwide form of paid leave for the parents of newly born children. Donald Trump would go where Republicans have refused to tread, by offering paid leave for mothers. Hillary Clinton would pay fathers, too. They’re also offering childcare — in plans detailed enough on both sides to provide a rare chance for meaningful comparisons. Does Trump favor the middle and upper class? Would Clinton’s plan be too expensive? We’ll hear some contrasting answers to those and other questions.

Reality Check: Health insurance and Obamacare

Even President Obama says the Affordable Care Act has real problems, which Bill Clinton says make it the “craziest thing [he’s] ever seen.” That’s put it front and center in the presidential campaign, to the delight of Donald Trump and the discomfort of Hillary Clinton. She wants reform. He wants repeal. And millions of newly insured people may be in for a “November Surprise:” a big jump in premiums — before the election. We hear two very different approaches to an issue that has the potential to influence the voting.

Reality Check: politics and the military

Military strength and defense spending have been political footballs in every presidential campaign since the end of the Second World War. Now, the US spends more on troops and weapons than the next nine countries combined, while Donald Trump insists that we’re weaker than ever. But insiders say Hillary Clinton sounds more likely to resort to force in foreign struggles the US can’t resolve — or escape from once it’s entangled. Where do they stand not just on traditional preparedness, but on the future of warfare in the cyberworld?

Reality check: Climate change, energy and the environment

The promises of candidates during political campaigns are often made to be broken, but they do provide clues for voters who want to know what government might look like once the election is over. Hillary Clinton describes global warming as an “urgent threat.” Donald Trump once called it “a hoax created by the Chinese.” He’s tried to back off a bit, but their differences are still profound, with dramatic consequences for energy policy and the environment. Clinton says she’ll increase reductions in fossil fuel and build on the Obama legacy — which Trump promises to obliterate while he restores the coal industry. We hear the implications for the Paris climate accords — just approved by the European Union — and for national security.

Reality check: Higher ed and student debt

About 70 percent of the 54 million millennials in the American workforce have some student loan debt, so it’s no wonder that young voters are calling on the presidential candidates to do something about it.

After many debates over the issue with Bernie Sanders in the primaries, Hillary Clinton has come up with a comprehensive plan to help students graduate debt-free. Donald Trump has not released a formal policy, but he has expressed his sympathy for debt-ridden students on the campaign trail. Here are a few key takeaways from a recent To the Point on the topic:

Hillary Clinton’s plan for college affordability is a whopping 60 pages long. She details how she wants to make colleges and universities free for students with a family income of $125,000 per year or less and help people refinance their student loans.

Bob Shireman is a volunteer adviser to the Clinton campaign on higher education says Clinton took an exhaustive approach to crafting her proposal.

“I was one of the 500-plus people who more than a year ago heard from the Clinton campaign staff and was asked to be a part of conference calls and meetings and looking at draft documents and spreadsheets,” Shireman explained. “It was an impressive operation.”

Clinton’s team found that it has been too easy for states to abandon their support of higher education. The Democratic presidential nominee plans to get states more involved with funding their public universities.

Meanwhile, Trump hasn’t put forward any specific policy about college debt. Instead, he’s talked broadly about working with Congress to encourage universities to make “good faith efforts” to lower tuition costs or risk losing federal tax breaks.

The federal government not only provides tax breaks and funding to both private and public colleges; it is also the largest provider of student loans. While Clinton wants to help students refinance their federal student loans, Trump wants to essentially take the federal government out of the student loan business completely.

“Trump’s adviser has said that he thinks the private market should in part determine whether someone gets a loan based on their credit-worthiness and the type of degree they are seeking, which would be a really fundamental change to how higher education is financed right now,” Michael Stratford, a political reporter for Politico, said.

Trump’s policies are vague, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing. Jonathan Cohn, a national reporter for the Huffington Post, talked about the pitfalls of a policy-wonk for president.

“It is possible to get so bogged down in the details that you lose sight of the big picture and politically this could be a liability,” Cohn said. “We do have histories of some presidents who got lost in the details and were not able to govern effectively.”

— Meghan Coyle, To the Point 

(Banner image: Gage Skidmore )