Compare and contrast Mitt Romney and Barack Obama's positions on the economy, healthcare, defence, foreign policy and social issues.
The US economy continues its frustratingly slow recovery, plagued by uncharacteristically high unemployment of around 8 per cent. Impatient for a return to more robust growth, Americans began to question the role of government in the recovery. A wave of pro-austerity “Tea Party” Republicans elected in 2010 helped bring legislative activity to a grinding halt, nearly resulting in a US debt default. But the Tea Party did succeed in shifting the debate: now neither party can talk about the economy without also talking about deficit reduction. Fast approaching is January’s “fiscal cliff,” during which the Bush-era tax cuts will finally expire and the “sequester” emergency debt deal will cut $110 billion from the 2013 federal budget. Economists worry that if this cliff is not avoided, the combined strain of budget cuts and new taxes will cause a new recession.
Obama on the economy
The President must now defend an economic platform that he was never able to fully implement. His economic platform consists of a combination of tax increases for the wealthy, closing tax loopholes and modest budget cuts. Obama rejected the recommendations of his bipartisan debt commission, unwilling to make proposed cuts to welfare programmes.
Romney on the economy
Romney has followed the conservative lead of his party, advocating instead for lower taxes, closing tax loopholes, and much greater cuts to the largest government programmes. He has tentatively endorsed the budget of his running mate Paul Ryan, but Romney’s own plan remain vague and he has not specified where the axe will fall. The Republican nominee has tried to tout his success in business as proof that he knows how to fire up the economy.
The Affordable Care Act - better known as “Obamacare” - is the President’s attempt to increase health insurance coverage while reducing the overall costs to both government and the public. It consists of an expansion of Medicaid (subsidised insurance for the poor), several patient protection provisions, and the mandate that requires all Americans to have health insurance, or face a tax penalty.
Obama on healthcare
Obamacare is the single biggest legislative achievement of Obama’s presidency, but its value as part of a campaign platform is questionable. The Supreme Court ruled that the law was mostly constitutional, but Americans have never warmed to the law as a whole. Despite this, they approve of most of the law’s specific measures, including preventing denial of coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. The President has embraced the term “Obamacare” on the campaign trail, saying it: “Proves I do care.”
Romney on healthcare
The Republican platform is defined by its opposition to Obamacare - the tagline is “Repeal and Replace.” Romney is in a difficult position, as his own healthcare reforms in Massachusetts - known as “Romneycare” - were very similar to Obama’s. Romney has moved carefully so far, calling for some changes in federal regulations but giving few clues about what he would put in place of Obama's law. Slipped in at the bottom of his platform is tort reform - a Republican holy grail of healthcare policy that would limit the scope for malpractice suits against doctors and America's medical industry.
Looming large over all discussions of national defence this year is the sequester, a set of massive automatic cuts to defence and other domestic spending. Everyone who ought to know, from Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta to Republican members of Congress to career military officials, says the sequester’s $500 billion in additional defense cuts would be disastrous for the US military and national security. However, because of the focus on the economy, defence policy is not expected to be a significant issue in this election.
Obama on defence
Obama is more willing to cut defense than entitlements in his pursuit of a more balanced budget. The President has already introduced $487 billion in cuts for the Department of Defence over the next 10 years, mostly savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The budget changes also reflect a part of the administration’s “pivot” toward Asia, a refocusing of defense and diplomatic resources to reflect the growing security importance of the region. Obama ordered and closely supervised the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, insulating him from traditional conservative attacks on Democrats as weak on national security. Obama’s increased use of drone strikes in counterterror operations is controversial in some scholarly circles, but not among the general public.
Romney on defence
In contrast to Obama’s “pivot” toward Asia, Romney has emphasized the importance of America’s traditional allies, especially Britain and Israel. Despite his aggressive attacks on the size of the deficit, he has also pledged to increase defence spending. He has criticised the Obama administration’s approach to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, pledging to do more than the President has to stop the Iranian nuclear programme.
The American foreign policy machine, like its armed forces, is in the middle of a so-called “pivot” toward Asia. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intend to increase their focus on trade, relationships and potential conflicts in Asia while maintaining trying to maintain the vitality of Nato. November’s winner will have to deal with the Eurozone crisis, ever-present tensions in East Asia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and continuing repercussions from the Arab Spring, including Syria’s civil war. However, as with defence, foreign policy questions will likely fall by the wayside this fall as the candidates focus on the struggling economy.
Obama on foreign policy
Obama began his presidency with plans to rehabilitate the damaged brand of American foreign policy through engagement with all parties on given issues. This has included the “reset” with Russia, which yielded the New Start treaty to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles. However, talks with Iran deteriorated quickly into further sanctions, US-China relations have not visibly improved, and the Arab Spring has beyond American control. Obama’s pragmatic foreign policy has generally been well-reviewed, and he is still well-liked around the world.
Romney on Foreign Policy
Romney’s foreign policy experience is limited and many of his positions involve simply being more forceful than his Democratic opponent. In his few statements on foreign affairs, he has criticized the pivot to Asia as an abandonment of Nato. He has also called Obama weak on Iran, Russia and China, and a poor friend to Israel, while offering few specifics on what he would do differently. Foreign policy is not a vote winner and Romney has instead focused his time on criticising Obama's economic performance.
Issues such as abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and illegal immigration are rarely decisive in an election and this year have been largely overshadowed by the economy. But the debate has been given new vigour by the Obama decision to back gay marriage and Democrat attempts to use abortion as a wedge issue to drive independent voters away from the Republicans.
Obama on Social Issues
Obama has taken a few distinct new positions on social issues in recent months. He’s accused the Republicans of a “War on Women,” called for legalising same-sex marriage for the first time, and announced he would stop deportations of immigrants who were brought to the US as children. While the Democrats has always held a polling advantage among women, the LGBT community, and Latino voters, these moves are meant to extend these leads and mobilise the base to get to the polls.
Romney on Social Issues
Romney passes most of the standard social-issues tests for a Republican candidate, in favor of state-level restriction on abortion and traditional marriage. As a result, he’s been caught on his back foot dealing with Obama’s recent activity on these issues. Romney got no traction trying to reverse the “War on Women” into an issue of women’s employment in a bad economy. He’s expressed sympathy with the plight of illegal immigrants while opposing Obama’s immigration move, calling it an abuse of executive power. Romney will need to close the gap among women and Hispanics, groups whose turnout could make a huge difference in several swing states.