AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Democratic presidential candidates have already been out on the trail for months pushing their policies as well as their broader visions for what they want America to look like, including Senator Elizabeth Warren.
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ELIZABETH WARREN: I believe that the time for small ideas is over. We need big structural change in this country and this economy.
CORNISH: Tonight Warren and nine other presidential contenders will have to explain their ideas to change the country. It will be the first time many Americans get a real introduction to these candidates and their policies. Now for more on what we might hear, we have NPR political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben. Welcome to the studio.
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: You've actually been looking at all of these plans and proposals, which is no small thing 'cause we're talking about a lot of people.
KURTZLEBEN: Right, yeah.
CORNISH: What's the biggest question you have heading into tonight's debate?
KURTZLEBEN: I have big questions about how specific candidates get, especially on the topic of health care because that's an area where they are being very sweeping in some cases. Let's talk Elizabeth Warren, for example. She will be on the stage tonight. She'll be center stage. And she is the I-have-a-plan person in this race. That is her slogan or one of her slogans.
And she has co-sponsored "Medicare for All." That's Senator Bernie Sanders' plan to get single-payer health care. It would create a government-run insurance program and virtually eliminate private insurance. But she's not alone in cosponsoring it, but she and various other co-sponsors have been - they have not necessarily said, yes, Medicare for All right away. They have said there are different paths. That's one of Elizabeth Warren's lines. There are different ways to get there. So one thing I'm curious about pinning these people down on is, OK, what is the path? What do you think is the best way to get to that - what could be a very, very big change to a huge sector of the U.S. economy?
Moreover, she'll be on stage tonight with more moderate candidates like Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. Amy Klobuchar backs a public option that would allow people to buy into Medicaid. So I'm curious to see what kind of differences there are on the stage and how much candidates might go after each other on that.
CORNISH: Right. After the 2018 midterms, Democrats really said, look; health care is our issue.
KURTZLEBEN: Very much.
CORNISH: But are you getting that sense from voters?
KURTZLEBEN: Voters - yeah, I mean, voters do care about health care very much, but they don't just care about, hey, big systemic change - what is it going to look like? They care about a lot of specific things like prescription drug prices, the opioid epidemic, reproductive rights, things that fall under a broad health care umbrella. So some of these problems are really hard to solve - is the issue. And it's hard for a candidate to even get at them in a full campaign speech, let alone the 60-second responses they're going to have tonight. So that could be really difficult to get at. Aside from that, climate change is something else, by the way, that candidates are really going to try to pin down tonight.
CORNISH: During the last presidential election, we did hear about student debt on the Democratic side, and it looks like we're hearing about it again. How do the candidates differ on the issue?
KURTZLEBEN: Right. You have a really broad range. Now, the candidates all seem to agree that, yes, there is something systemically wrong with the way that people pay for college in America but big differences in how to get there. Bernie Sanders this week put out a plan to eliminate all student debt - $1.6 trillion worth. That is a huge, huge sweeping plan. Two people who will be on the stage tonight, Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro - they both have less-sweeping plans to eliminate student debt.
But there are other people with other routes to it. Cory Booker, New Jersey senator - he'll be on stage. He has signed on to what's called the Debt-Free College Act, which is just what it sounds like. It's a way to get people to graduate college debt-free. Kamala Harris has signed on as well. And you have people with more moderate plans - once again, Amy Klobuchar. So once again - lots of agreement that something needs to be done on a lot of topics tonight but not necessarily agreement on how to fix those big problems.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben on the big policy discussions were likely to hear at tonight's first Democratic presidential debate. Thanks so much.
KURTZLEBEN: Thank you.
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