WASHINGTON – The race for the Republican presidential nomination is all but over, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the presumptive winner. On the Democratic side, President Barack Obama is making campaign-style appearances and doing some high-profile fundraising. Increasingly, the two candidates are focusing their positions on the issues with reference to one another. It has the look and feel of a two-horse race.
Here is a look at where Obama and Romney stand on a selection of issues:
Abortion, birth control
Obama: Supports abortion rights. Health care law requires contraceptives to be available for free for women enrolled in workplace health plans, including access to the morning-after pill, which does not terminate a pregnancy but is considered tantamount to an abortion pill by some religious conservatives. Supported requiring girls 16 and under to get a prescription for the morning-after pill, available without a prescription for older women.
Romney: Opposes abortion rights. Previously supported them. Says state law should guide abortion rights and that Roe v. Wade should be reversed by a future Supreme Court. But says Roe v. Wade is the law of the land until that happens and should not be challenged by federal legislation seeking to overturn abortion rights affirmed by that court decision. “So I would live within the law, within the Constitution as I understand it, without creating a constitutional crisis. But I do believe Roe v. Wade should be reversed to allow states to make that decision.” Said he would end federal aid to Planned Parenthood.
Obama: A fourth straight year of trillion-dollar deficits is projected. Federal spending is estimated at 23.5 percent of gross domestic product this year, up from about 20 percent in the previous administration, and is forecast to decline to 21.8 percent by 2016. Won approval to raise the debt limit to avoid default. Calls for tackling the debt with a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases. Central to Obama’s plan is to let Bush-era tax cuts expire for couples making more than $250,000. That would generate more than $700 billion over 10 years. Also, would set a 30 percent tax rate on taxpayers making more than $1 million, increasing taxes for some but not all millionaires and billionaires. That would generate about $47 billion over 10 years. Reached agreement with congressional Republicans to cut $487 billion in military spending over a decade.
Romney: Defended 2008 bailout of financial institutions as a necessary step to avoid the system’s collapse, opposed the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, and said any such aid should not single out specific companies. Would cap federal spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product by end of first term. Stayed silent on the debt-ceiling deal during its negotiation, only announcing his opposition to the final agreement shortly before lawmakers voted on it. Instead, endorsed GOP “cut, cap and balance” bill that had no chance of enactment. Favors constitutional balanced budget amendment. Proposes broad but largely unspecified cuts in federal spending. Among the few details: 10 percent cut in federal workforce, elimination of $1.6 billion in Amtrak subsidies and cuts of $600 million in support for the arts and broadcasting.
Obama: Term marked by high unemployment, a deep recession that began in previous administration and officially ended within six months, and gradual recovery with persistently high jobless rates. Unemployment rate jumped to 8.3 percent from 7.8 percent in February 2009, Obama’s first full month in office, and has remained above 8 percent since. The 38-month stretch of unemployment above 8 percent is the longest on records dating to 1948. But employers have added 3.6 million jobs since job creation turned steadily positive in March 2010. Businesses have added jobs for 25 straight months, pushing down the unemployment rate from 9.8 percent in March 2010 to 8.2 percent two years later. Responded to recession with a roughly $800 billion stimulus plan that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated cut the unemployment rate by 0.7 to 1.8 percentage points. Continued implementation of Wall Street and auto industry bailouts begun under George W. Bush. Proposes tax breaks for U.S. manufacturers producing domestically or repatriating jobs from abroad, and tax penalties for U.S. companies outsourcing jobs. Won approval of South Korea, Panama and Colombia free-trade pacts begun under previous administration, completing the biggest round of trade liberalization since the North American Free Trade Agreement and other pacts of that era.
Romney: Favors lower taxes, less regulation, balanced budget and more trade deals to spur growth. Proposes replacing jobless benefits with unemployment savings accounts. Proposes repeal of the Dodd-Frank law toughening financial-industry regulations after the meltdown in that sector. Proposes changing, but not repealing, the Sarbanes-Oxley law tightening accounting regulations in response to corporate scandals, to ease the accountability burden on smaller businesses. “We don’t want to tell the world that Republicans are against all regulation. No, regulation is necessary to make a free market work. But it has to be updated and modern.”
Obama: Has approved waivers freeing states from the most onerous requirements of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law with their agreement to improve how they prepare and evaluate students. “Race to the Top” competition has rewarded winning states with billions of dollars for pursuing education policies Obama supports. Won approval for a college tax credit worth up to $10,000 over four years and more money for Pell grants for low-income college students. Wants Congress to agree to reduce federal aid to colleges that go too far in raising tuition.
Romney: Supported the federal accountability standards of No Child Left Behind. In 2007, said he was wrong earlier in career when he wanted the Education Department shut, because he came to see the value of the federal government in “holding down the interests of the teachers unions” and putting kids and parents first. Has said the student testing, charter-school incentives and teacher evaluation standards of Obama’s “Race to the Top” competition “make sense,” although the federal government should have less control of education.
Energy and environment
Obama: Ordered temporary moratorium on deep-water drilling after the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico but has pushed for more oil and gas drilling overall. Approved drilling plan in Arctic Ocean opposed by environmentalists. Proposes Congress give oil market regulators more power to control price manipulation by speculators and stiffer fines for doing so.
Achieved historic increases in fuel economy standards for automobiles that will save money at the pump while raising the cost of new vehicles. Achieved first regulations on heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming and on toxic mercury pollution from power plants. Spent heavily on green energy and has embraced nuclear power as a clean source.
Failed to persuade a Democratic Congress to pass limits he promised on carbon emissions. Shelved a plan to toughen health standards on lung-damaging smog. Rejected Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada but supports fast-track approval of a segment of it. Proposes ending subsidies to oil industry but has failed to persuade Congress to do so.
Romney: Supports opening the Atlantic and Pacific outer continental shelves to drilling, as well as Western lands, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and offshore Alaska; and supports exploitation of shale oil deposits. Wants to reduce obstacles to coal, natural gas and nuclear energy development, and accelerate drilling permits in areas where exploration has already been approved for developers with good safety records.
Says green power has yet to become viable and that the causes of climate change are unknown. Proposes to remove carbon dioxide from list of pollutants controlled by Clean Air Act and amend clean water and air laws to ensure the cost of complying with regulations is balanced against environmental benefit. Says cap-and-trade would “rocket energy prices.”
Blames high gas prices on Obama’s decisions to limit oil drilling in environmentally sensitive areas and on overzealous regulation.
Obama: Supports legal recognition of same-sex marriage, a matter decided by states. Opposed that recognition in 2008 presidential campaign – and in 2004 Senate campaign – while supporting the extension of legal rights and benefits to same-sex couples in civil unions. Achieved repeal of the military ban on openly gay service members. Has not achieved repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and affirms the right of states to refuse to recognize such marriages. Administration has ceased defending the law in court, but it remains on the books. Directed government to require all hospitals that get Medicare and Medicaid financing to grant visitation privileges to gay and lesbian partners of patients. But has declined to issue an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against gay employees, holding out instead for congressional action to extend such protection to workers in all sectors. In 1996 Illinois state Senate campaign, stated: “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages,” a position he later abandoned at the federal level and now embraces again. “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” he said Wednesday.
Romney: Opposes legal recognition of same-sex marriage and says it should be banned with a constitutional amendment, not left to states. “Marriage is not an activity that goes on within the walls of a state.” Also opposes civil unions “if they are identical to marriage other than by name,” but says states should be left to decide what rights and benefits should be allowed under those unions. Says certain domestic partnership benefits – largely unspecified – as well as hospital visitation rights are appropriate but “others are not.” Says he would not seek to restore the ban on openly gay military members. Asserted in 2002 campaign for Massachusetts governor that “all citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of sexual preference,” in tune with statements years earlier as a Senate candidate that equality for gays and lesbians should be a “mainstream concern.” But did not explicitly support marriage recognition and, as governor, opposed same-sex marriage when courts legalized it in Massachusetts. “My view is that marriage itself is between a man and a woman.”
Obama: Achieved landmark overhaul putting U.S. on path to universal coverage if the Supreme Court upholds the heath care law and its mandate for almost everyone to obtain insurance. Under the law, insurers will be banned from denying coverage to people with pre-existing illnesses, tax credits for middle-income and low-income people will subsidize premiums, people without work-based insurance will have access to new markets, small business gets help for offering insurance, and Medicaid will be expanded, with the biggest changes starting in 2014. “Nobody is going to go broke just because they get sick. And Americans will no longer be denied or dropped by their insurance companies just when they need care the most. That’s what change is.”
Romney: Promises to work for the repeal of the federal health care law modeled largely after his universal health care achievement in Massachusetts because he says states, not Washington, D.C., should drive policy on the uninsured. Proposes to guarantee that people who are “continuously covered” for a certain period be protected against losing insurance if they get sick, leave their job and need another policy.
Would expand individual tax-advantaged medical savings accounts and let the savings be used for insurance premiums as well as personal medical costs. Would let insurance be sold across state lines and restrict malpractice awards to restrain health care costs. Would introduce “generous” but undetermined subsidies to help future retirees buy private insurance, or let them have the option of traditional Medicare, with a gradually increasing age to qualify for benefits.
Obama: Failed to deliver on a promised immigration overhaul, with the defeat of legislation that would have created a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants enrolled in college or enlisted in the armed forces. Says he is still committed to it. Government has deported a record number of illegal immigrants under Obama, nearly 400,000 in each of the last three years.
Romney: Favors U.S.-Mexico border fence. Opposes education benefits to illegal immigrants. Opposes offering legal status to illegal immigrants who attend college but would do so for those who serve in the armed forces. Wants to establish an immigration-status verification system for employers and punish them if they hire noncitizens who do not prove their legal status. Proposes more visas for holders of advanced degrees in math, science and engineering who have U.S. job offers, and would award permanent residency to foreign students who graduate from U.S. schools with degrees in those fields.
Obama: Has not proposed a comprehensive plan to address Social Security’s long-term financial problems. During budget negotiations in 2011, proposed adopting a new measurement of inflation that would reduce annual increases in Social Security benefits. The proposal would reduce the long-term financing shortfall by about 25 percent, according to the Social Security actuaries.
Romney: Would protect the status quo for people 55 and over but, for the next generations of retirees, raise the retirement age for full benefits by one or two years and reduce inflation increases in benefits for wealthier recipients.
Obama: Wants to raise taxes on the wealthy and ensure they pay 30 percent of their income at minimum. Supports extending Bush-era tax cuts for everyone making less than $200,000, or $250,000 for couples. But in 2010, agreed to a two-year extension of the lower rates for all. Wants to let the top tax rates go back up 3 to 4 points to 39.6 percent and 36 percent, and raise rates on capital gains and dividends for the wealthy. Health care law provides for tax on highest-value health insurance plans. Together with Congress, built a first-term record of significant tax cuts for families and businesses, some temporary.
Romney: Wants to drop all tax rates by 20 percent, bringing the top rate, for example, down to 28 percent from 35 percent and the lowest rate to 8 percent instead of 10 percent. Curtail deductions, credits and exemptions for the wealthiest. End Alternative Minimum Tax for individuals, eliminate capital gains tax for families making less than $200,000 and cut corporate tax to 25 percent from 35 percent. Does not specify which tax breaks or programs he would curtail to help cover costs. Dodged on extending cut in payroll tax, saying he doesn’t like “temporary little Band-Aids,” but that he’s not for raising taxes “anywhere.”
Obama: Approved the raid that found and killed Osama bin Laden. Set policy that U.S. would no longer use harsh interrogation techniques, a practice that had essentially ended later in George W. Bush’s presidency. Largely carried forward Bush’s key anti-terrorism policies, including detention of suspects at Guantanamo Bay despite a promise to close the prison. Also has continued with military commissions instead of civilian courts for detainees and invocation of state secrets privilege in court. Expanded use of unmanned drone strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan and Yemen.
Romney: Favors no constitutional rights for foreign terrorism suspects. In 2007, refused to rule out use of waterboarding to interrogate terrorist suspects. In 2011, campaign said he does not consider waterboarding to be torture.
Obama: Ended the Iraq War he had opposed and inherited. Increased the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, then began drawing down the force with a plan to have all troops out by the end of 2014. Approved use of U.S. air power in NATO-led campaign that helped Libyan opposition topple Moammar Gadhafi’s government. Major reductions coming in the size of the Army and Marine Corps as part of agreement with congressional Republicans to cut $487 billion in military spending over a decade. Declined to repeat the Libya air power commitment for Syrian opposition. Opposes a near-term military strike on Iran, either by the U.S. or by Israel, to sabotage nuclear facilities that could be misused to produce a nuclear weapon. Says the U.S. will never tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran but that negotiation and pressure through sanctions are the right way to prevent that outcome. Reserves the right to one day conclude that only a military strike can stop Iran from getting the bomb.
Romney: Has not specified the troop numbers behind his pledge to ensure the “force level necessary to secure our gains and complete our mission successfully” in Afghanistan. “This is not time for America to cut and run.” Said Obama was wrong to begin reducing troop levels as soon as he did. Would increase strength of armed forces, including number of troops and warships, adding almost $100 billion to the Pentagon budget in 2016. Has spoken in favor of covert action by the U.S. and regional allies in Syria but said “the right course is not military” intervention by the U.S. Criticizes Obama’s approach on Iran as too conciliatory and associates himself more closely with hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Has not explicitly threatened a U.S. military strike but in one Republican debate said that re-electing Obama would guarantee an Iranian bomb and that electing Romney would guarantee Iran would not get a nuclear weapon. “Of course you take military action” if sanctions and internal opposition fail to dissuade Tehran from making a nuclear weapon.
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