2020 Presidential Candidate Series — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Update 387 — 2020 Presidential Cand. Series:
The Economic Agenda of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii has made an impression on the 2020 presidential debate stage and the campaign trail thus far as passionate and combative.  Her take-down of Sen. Harris in their second debate served notice that Gabbard fights tough but fair. Her still-small band of supporters is die-hard but her odds of the nomination remain long. 

The combination of tough but fair could make for interesting tax and other economic policy. Drawing on her military experience, Rep. Gabbard’s campaign focuses mainly on foreign policy, but her congressional record shows strong support for progressive economic issues, including raising the minimum wage and Medicare for all.   

More on her signature economic policy, higher education reform, and other proposals, below.

Good weekends all,



In January, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard announced she was running for president.  At 21 years old, she was Hawaii’s youngest ever state representative, and now, at 38, is one of the youngest contenders for the Democratic nomination.  A former National Guard member, Gabbard was elected to Congress from Hawaii in 2013. She served as Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee from 2013 to 2016 but resigned to endorse Senator Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

Rep. Gabbard did not make the debate stage in September, but after a fourth qualifying poll last Tuesday, she secured a spot for the debate on Oct. 15. Below, we take a look at her economic policy track record in Congress and some of the issues she champions on the campaign trail.

Higher Education Reform as Economic Policy

Rep. Gabbard is one of two millennial candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination, along with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. During her first year in Congress, Gabbard helped launch the Congressional Future Caucus, a bipartisan group of younger members of Congress, focusing on issues facing the next generation of Americans.  During her time in Congress, she sponsored a number of bills aimed at increasing access to higher education for lower-income students, protecting Pell Grants, and offering tax breaks for employers who provide assistance in paying off employee student loans. 

A big issue among millennial voters this cycle is undoubtedly higher education — more specifically, the cost of education and the rise in student debt (covered in a previous update). Rep. Gabbard is not the only candidate highlighting this issue, but her track record in Congress shows that she is not just offering talking points on this issue, and she has laid out a number of priorities in her 2020 campaign platform, notably:

  • College tuition and loan reform: Gabbard is an original cosponsor of H.R. 3472, the College for All Act of 2019. The bill, introduced in the Senate by her fellow Democratic contender, Sen. Sanders, would eliminate tuition fees at all public four-year colleges and universities for those making under $125,000. It also would make community college tuition-free for all Americans. 
  • Discharging student loan debt: Gabbard was a sponsor of H.R.1674, the Private Student Loan Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2015, during the 114th Congress. H.R. 1674 would treat privately issued student loan debt the same as other private personal debt during bankruptcy. One of the great injustices of student loan debt is that it does not get written off in the same way as other personal debt during bankruptcy. This has been the case since 2005, when a change to the bankruptcy code altered the law and left borrowers with a debt burden that they can never be free of. 

Honorable Mentions

  • Raising the minimum wage:  Rep. Gabbard is an original cosponsor of H.R. 582, the Raise the Wage Act. The bill seeks to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, providing a significant boost to the wages of almost 30 percent of the U.S. workforce. Rep. Gabbard is platforming on a similar message to Sen. Sanders on this issue, talking about how American workers deserve a living wage and that if you work a 40 hour job you should not live in poverty — respectable and reasonable goals. 
  • Holding Wall Street accountable: Rep. Gabbard has long been an advocate for Main Street over Wall Street. In March 2018, she tweeted: “Millions of Americans have struggled since the 2008 Recession, but Wall Street hasn’t. The banks that were too big to fail then are even bigger today. The people who lost their homes, jobs and life savings were not bailed out like the banks were.”  She has plans to resolve the big banks and close loopholes allowing risky banking practices.
  • Strengthening Social Security: Rep. Gabbard is a strong proponent of protecting and strengthening Social Security. She is an original cosponsor of H.R. 860, the Social Security 2100 Act, a bill introduced by Rep. John Larson that raises the FICA tax cap to $400,000 and increases benefits earned by 2 percent for all beneficiaries, making Social Security solvent through 2100. If she were to become president, she claims she would also take and reinvest the trillions of tax dollars currently spent on military spending and tax giveaways in two major Social Security programs: OASI and Disability Insurance. 

A Progressive in Soldier’s Clothing?

Rep. Gabbard is most certainly in the progressive camp, but she may find it difficult to find her voice in a field that includes progressive behemoths such as Sens. Sanders and Warren. Whether she can break out from the pack and distinguish herself as a truly viable candidate remains to be seen.  That being said, her youth and support for progressive ideals might be enough to keep her 2020 candidacy afloat for the near future. 

She has garnered some attention during the recent debates for her clear anti-interventionist foreign policy stance and her pointed exchange with Sen. Kamala Harris.  She did not make it to the September debate stage, but she earned another chance this month to speak to her broader economic policy agenda, still thin.  

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