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Political Translation

For months, presidential candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry have been offering competing
plans on issues important to Americans.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:15 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

BUDGET DEFICIT

Analysis

Bush inherited a $237 billion surplus that a 2001 report from the Congressional Budget Office projected would total $5 trillion from 2002 through 2011. That course has been reversed.

While both candidates pledge to cut the deficit by half in four years, their spending proposals cast doubt on the feasibility of substantial deficit reduction.

Kerry's health-care plan is projected to cost up to $1.5 trillion, according to Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. His claims that more efficiency and better medical technology would cut almost a third of that cost are questionable at best.

Bush vows to make all his tax cuts permanent, a move that could cost up to $2.2 trillion, including interest payments. His suggestion that greater tax revenue from economic growth would begin to pay off the deficit is dubious. The liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes that projected tax revenue as a share of the economy in 2004-05 is estimated to be lower than the average for the past five decades.

Neither campaign includes costs associated with the war in Iraq in its projections. With those costs included, analysts at Goldman Sachs and the Brookings Institution, cited by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, project the deficit will exceed a total of

$5.2 trillion over the next 10 years.

Kerry's stand

Promises his administration would spend only within the bounds of the revenue it generates. Kerry promotes social programs that he thinks would save money and cause positive economic ripple effects. He also calls for a reversal of Bush's tax cut for the top 2 percent of income earners, which Bush critics estimate is responsible for up to 35 percent of the deficit.

Bush's stand

Argues that the record budget deficit of $521 billion is largely the result of a sluggish economy, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the war in Iraq and increased spending on homeland security and defense. He says that caps on government spending, except on homeland security and defense, in conjunction with increased tax revenue spawned by economic growth will help reduce the deficit.

IRAQ

Analysis

Events on the ground have taken a dramatic turn for the worse this fall as the anti-American insurgency intensifies. Recent documents from the Department of Defense, obtained by the Reuters news agency and the subject of a Sept. 24 Reuters report, contradict Bush’s claim that 100,000 trained Iraqi troops are assisting American efforts; they show only about 53,000 have undergone training.

Bush has failed to provide specifics on how he would foster greater international involvement in Iraq. As the Center for Strategic and International Studies notes, Bush has neither defined the desired role of the United Nations nor bridged divisions within NATO over the war. The United States appears to be making little headway in procuring such support.

Kerry charges that Bush’s aggressive unilateral foreign policy has caused a credibility gap and damaged American relations with Europe to such a degree that only a fresh face in the White House can restore alliances. But it remains doubtful that many European leaders would defy domestic public opinion and invest troops in an unpopular military operation, regardless of who is president.

Kerry's stand

Calls for a summit convened by the United States to encourage international support for American efforts in Iraq, a more concerted effort to train Iraqi forces, a more focused reconstruction effort and an expanded role for the United Nations in ensuring timely elections. Kerry claims execution of the plan would ensure a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in four years.

Bush's stand

Outlined a five-step plan for restoring order in Iraq in May. That plan began with the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq on June 29 and calls for establishing security, continuing reconstruction, encouraging international support and holding a national election in January. He criticizes Kerry for inconsistent stances on the war and insists the United States has international support in Iraq.

AFGHANISTAN

Analysis

While Bush’s strategies for tracking down bin Laden have been questioned, the administration has successfully lobbied Pakistan for assistance in combing hostile terrain on the Afghan-Pakistani border. The manhunt and the process of stabilization have been complicated by the conflict in Iraq, which has denied American forces flexibility in positioning troops and allocating resources within the country.

Elizabeth Sullivan, a foreign affairs columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, noted in a Sept. 26 analysis that while Kerry's plan emphasizes combating the resurgent opium trade, it focuses more on disarming regional war-lords at the expense of a focus on Taliban remnants.

The nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies criticizes the reconstruction effort as “plagued by woefully inadequate security measures and funding commitments by the international community.” While Kerry voices similar concerns, he offers no specifics about increased reconstruction aid to Afghanistan.

Kerry's stand

Expresses alarm over the dramatic increase in opium production in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. He proposes doubling counter-narcotics assistance to Afghan authorities and calls for increasing NATO’s role in stabilizing and reconstructing the country. He also criticizes Bush for taking the focus off Afghanistan in favor of the war in Iraq.

Bush's stand

Hails Afghanistan’s first presidential election on Oct. 9 as a sign of the country’s transition to a democratic state. As reconstruction continues, Bush relies on Special Forces units to give the American military as vast a reach over the country as possible. The administration also relies extensively on the government of neighboring Pakistan in the ongoing hunt for Osama bin Laden.

EDUCATION

Analysis

A recent Gallup poll showed that if Americans were to vote for president based on education issues alone, 41 percent would favor Kerry and 41 percent would favor Bush.

The No Child Left Behind Act will remain in place regardless of who wins Nov. 2. Experts say that while its accountability provisions are good, insisting that schools boost achievement for all student subgroups, it needs to be fully funded so that local schools aren’t forced to find the money on their own. They also question whether the act’s style of testing is sound, suggesting students’ performance should be measured not only through a one-time standardized test but also through their regular work and their social and emotional progress.

The candidates’ offers of tax credits to help families with college tuition drew praise from experts, who called on the federal government to do more to help students at an economic disadvantage.

Kerry's stand

Also has specific plans for teachers, tuition assistance and the No Child Left Behind Act. They include:

  • Recruiting an additional 500,000 teachers by adding an annual $10 billion for hiring under No Child Left Behind and calling for raises of up to $5,000 for teachers in high-need areas. He says he would budget $1 billion for a new teacher corps.
  • Offering a College Opportunity Tax Credit of $4,000 to help with tuition for all four years of college. He would give states $10 billion for higher education if they keep tuition increases in line with inflation for the next two years.
  • Creating a Service for College program in which 200,000 students would get four years of college tuition if they work two years as either teachers’ aides, tutors or after-school caregivers; serve as members of the Police Corps; or volunteer to build low-income housing, assist elderly people in independent living or keep national parks and water clean.
  • Fully funding No Child Left Behind by repealing tax cuts for the wealthiest families and creating an Education Trust Fund for public schools.

Bush's stand

Offers a multifaceted plan to improve teaching, provide tuition assistance to college students and to expand testing under the No Child Left Behind Act. Major components include:

  • Forgiving up to $17,500 in student-loan debt for highly qualified math, science and special education teachers who work in low-income areas.
  • Spending $40 million to create an Adjunct Teacher Corps of experienced professionals who would teach high school courses while on leave from their jobs.
  • Improving high school math achievement by boosting the funding for teachers’ professional development to $269 million.
  • Increasing aid to college students. The 2005 budget already includes more than $73 billion, a $4.4 billion increase over 2004. Bush proposes providing $9 billion in tax credits and deductions to help families with tuition. His budget also includes $12.9 billion for new Pell Grants and gives $1,000 to students who participate in the State Scholars program.
  • Expanding assessment tests in the third through 11th grades and giving states $250 million a year to design and administer tests.

HEALTH CARE

Analysis

An estimated 49.5 million Americans lack health insurance, according to the Lewin Group, a non-partisan health-care research and consulting firm that did an independent study of both candidates' insurance plans. Bush's plan would cover 8.2 million more people, and Kerry's 25.2 million. The Bush plan would reduce America's uninsured by 17 percent, Kerry's by 51 percent. Both plans would have the greatest impact on children. Bush would cover 27 percent of uninsured children younger than 19 and Kerry's 59 percent. Bush's plan is more evenly divided among income groups; it would provide new coverage to 2.9 million more families with incomes at or below $20,000 and to 2.5 million families with incomes of $50,000 or more. Kerry's would provide new coverage to 13.9 million families with incomes at or below $20,000 and 1.9 million families with incomes of $50,000 or more.

The plans' costs differ dramatically. If implemented from 2006 through 2015, the Bush plan would boost federal spending by $227.5 billion from 2006 through 2015. The Kerry plan would cost $1.25 trillion, in part because it calls for covering the full $553.1 billion cost of Medicaid for 20 million children.

Kerry's stand

Proposes different tactics for controlling health-care costs and boosting accessibility. They include:

  • Establishing a "premium rebate pool" in insurance plans to cover catastrophic costs exceeding a threshold set so that the average estimated savings would be 10 percent for qualifying plans. This would reduce family premiums by up to $1,000 annually, he says.
  • Prohibiting people from filing medical malpractice lawsuits unless specialists determine the validity of the plaintiffs' claims. He would sanction attorneys for unwarranted claims and require states to offer nonbinding mediation in all cases before they go to trial. He would restrict punitive damages to those cases where medical misconduct, gross negligence or reckless indifference to life is proven. He opposes caps on damage awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, saying they would do nothing to reduce health-care costs and would deny justice to those with life-shattering injuries.
  • Calling for an end to patent-law loopholes that keep cheaper prescription drugs off the market. He says he would help states provide the same drug discounts to the uninsured that insured patients get through bulk purchasing.

Bush's stand

Offers several strategies for making health care more affordable and accessible. They include:

  • Helping low-income people buy low-premium, high-deductible insurance by providing tax credits of up to $2,000 for families and $700 for individuals.
  • Giving tax credits of $1,000 for families and $300 for individuals to contribute to health savings accounts. For small businesses that contribute to employee health savings accounts, Bush would offer a tax-deductible rebate of up to $500 per worker with family coverage and $200 per worker with individual coverage.
  • Allowing small businesses to unite and form association health plans to negotiate on behalf of employees. He proposes expanding association health plans to allow people to buy coverage through civic, charitable and religious organizations.
  • Pushing for tort reform as a way to control the costs of health care and doctors' insurance premiums.
  • Enabling all Medicare recipients to sign up for prescription drug benefits beginning in January 2006. Bush signed the law providing Medicare drug discount cards to about 4.3 million seniors. Low-income seniors also get an additional $600 annual tax credit and will receive another $600 by the end of 2005 to help pay for prescriptions.

INTERNATIONAL TRADE/OUTSOURCING

Analysis

Both Bush and Kerry support free trade, a process of economic integration that loosens traditional barriers to global trade and commerce. While proponents hail free trade as an antidote to global poverty and a business-friendly system of international commerce, critics point to the loss of American jobs to low-cost overseas competitors.

While outsourcing can be blamed for job losses in certain industries, particularly information technology, recent government reports indicate the correlation might be exaggerated. In May, the Department of Labor reported that only 2.5 percent of American job losses were attributable to outsourcing.

While Kerry is correct about the existence of corporate tax incentives for moving jobs overseas, closing such loopholes would have little effect, some analysts say. “The tax deferral is a very minor reason for why companies move jobs overseas,” says David Wyss, chief economist for the Standard & Poor Index.

Kerry's stand

Stands by his support for the 1994 ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a treaty that some blame for American job losses. He proposes a 120-day review of all trade deals to re-evaluate and revise provisions potentially harmful to American industries. Kerry also proposes closing tax loopholes that encourage American corporations to “outsource” jobs.

Bush's stand

Remains firm in his support of trade liberalization and voices strong support for regional free-trade initiatives such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement. He abides by World Trade Organization rulings against American protectionism on behalf of domestic steel industries. Earlier this year, a top economic adviser to Bush argued outsourcing is “probably a plus” for the economy in the long run.

ENVIRONMENT

Analysis

Bush’s clean-air and clean-water proposals are widely viewed as backward steps because they curtail certain standards, delay deadlines for companies and states to comply and reduce the motivation for businesses to employ new technologies that would make them more competitive in the international marketplace, according to the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy. Experts at the center, however, don't view Kerry as an environmental crusader, either.

Greenhouse-gas emissions are high on the center’s list of environmental priorities. It calls on the United States to return to the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement under which 170 nations agreed to reduce emissions of gases that cause global climate change.

Kerry's stand

Says he would vigorously enforce the New Source Review, a provision of the Clean Air Act that requires power plants and refineries to update emission controls when they modernize. Kerry says that Bush has lifted that requirement from all but a few facilities and that the Clear Skies Act imposes unattainably low allowances for mercury. Kerry advocates a more ambitious deadline than Bush for imposing hard caps on nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions. Kerry’s six-point strategy for the Great Lakes includes a “no toxics” plan to measure, identify and reduce toxins; invest in sewage repairs, cleanups and wetlands restoration; develop plans to restore healthy beaches; and create a Great Lakes Outdoors Council of state and local officials. Kerry plans to reduce the percentage of water that is not “drinkable, swimmable or fishable,” which now stands at about 45 percent. He says he would work with cities to tackle storm water runoff, sewer overflows and pollution from farms. He wants to encourage efficient water use and restore the health of Florida’s Everglades, the Chesapeake Bay, California’s Bay Delta and watersheds from the Hudson River to the Mississippi Valley. He says he would return the United States to the Kyoto Protocol.

Bush's stand

Hopes to push through Congress the Clear Skies Act, which would cut sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions and cap mercury emissions for the first time. Bush says the initiative would expand the 1990 Clean Air Act’s Acid Rain Program and create incentives for coal-fired power plans to install technologies to control emissions. He advocates an emissions trading plan that would provide economic incentives for meeting early deadlines. Bush withdrew the United States from the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for global reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions. Bush’s fiscal 2005 budget includes $21 million for the Water 2025 program, which is intended to help communities, tribes and states deal with finite water supplies by improving conservation, monitoring resources and using water banks and desalination. The budget also includes $45 million for the EPA and others to address six Great Lakes sites tainted by toxic sediment.


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