Bernie Sanders Was Asked How He'd Outdo Hillary Clinton On Women's Issues — And His Answer Nailed It

Sen. Bernie Sanders fielded a number of tough questions about his health care plan, gun control record, and ability to pay for the many programs he is proposing during Monday's Democratic town hall event in Iowa. One particularly challenging question came from a woman in the audience who wanted to know how Sanders could be more helpful to women in this country than the first female president. His response nailed a key difference between himself and former Sec. Hillary Clinton.

Sanders began his response by referring to his record of working for women's rights during his time in Congress, something he has in common with Clinton. Both candidates have solid track records of protecting women's reproductive rights, supporting Affirmative Action programming that benefits women in the workplace, and working to close the pay gap. During the 2016 race, both campaigns have put paid family leave in the spotlight, and both have expressed the importance of keeping Planned Parenthood funded. Clinton and Sanders each have a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood Action Fund's Congressional scorecard.

But Sanders quickly moved his response to the town hall audience member into territory that is more uniquely his own: economic reforms that would disproportionately benefit women. He highlighted his proposals to raise the minimum wage and to expand Social Security as particularly important.

Sanders came out in favor of a $15 federal minimum wage early in his campaign, and even introduced a bill into the Senate to fight for it. The National Women's Law Center reports that two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. Clinton also supports raising the federal minimum wage, to $12 an hour, and expresses support for state and local efforts by Fight for $15 and other organizations to raise the minimum wage in certain areas. The $12-an-hour rate would still leave some people living just below the living wage rate for single individuals in certain parts of the country, according to the Living Wage Project.

The shortcomings of Social Security, the second issue Sanders brought up in his response, impact women the most. The Social Security Administration reports that the average yearly SS income received by women over 65 was $12,857, compared to $16,590 for men. For unmarried women aged 65 and older, this accounts for nearly half of their total income, and 49 percent of unmarried elderly women count their benefits as at least 90 percent of their income.

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Sanders' social security plan would "not only extend the solvency of Social Security for the next 50 years," he said, "but also bring in enough revenue to expand benefits by an average of $65 a month; increase cost-of-living-adjustments; and lift more seniors out of poverty by increasing the minimum benefits paid to low-income seniors." Sanders plans to pay for this by lifting the income tax cap that currently prevents collecting toward Social Security on income greater than $118,500. He wants people who make over $250,000 to pay the same percentage of tax as those who make less.

During the town hall, Sanders challenged: "Ask Hillary Clinton if she's prepared to lift the cap on taxable income."

Clinton also has a plan to expand Social Security, particularly to increase benefits for widows and women who have lower payouts due to time away from work for raising children or caring for sick family members. Sanders' challenge may seem a bit odd, considering that Clinton's plan states that she would fund the program's expansion by "asking the highest-income Americans to pay more, including options to tax some of their income above the current Social Security cap, and taxing some of their income not currently taken into account by the Social Security system." Though she doesn't commit to a figure on her campaign page, it would seem that she's perfectly willing to lift the cap.

Sanders' skepticism here may lie in the fact that Clinton was strongly opposed to doing so up until recently. In her 2008 campaign against then-Senator Barack Obama, he was the one arguing to lift the cap on taxable income toward Social Security, and Clinton stood against it.

And herein lies the Sanders edge: He doesn't hesitate to demand economic policies that benefit the low to middle class and turn to the wealthy to fund programs that benefit the vast majority of Americans — and, of particular note here, women. Clinton's policies mirror Sanders' in many ways. But because she has changed her tune only recently on a number of issues including the income tax cap, paid family leave, and same-sex marriage, whether she would work for the more progressive of her proposals can reasonably be called into question. By highlighting his strength on progressive economic policy, Sanders gave a strong answer for why he's in a better position to help women than Hillary Clinton.