With only two days before the 2012 presidential election, the two candidates — President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican — are battling for every vote in what most polls indicate is an extremely close race. The economy is the top issue for many Americans. Here’s where the candidates stand on major economic issues:
Obama wants to hold income-tax rates for most Americans at current levels, but next year he would let Bush-era tax cuts for individuals making more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000 expire. The top tax rate would rise to its pre-Bush level of 39.6 percent from 35 percent. He would also allow the capital gains tax rate to rise to 20 percent from 15 percent and dividends to be taxed at higher earned income-tax levels.
Romney would keep all the Bush-era tax cuts, including the 15 percent rate for investment income from capital gains and dividends. Romney would then cut all rates a further 20 percent. The highest income-tax rate would fall to 28 percent from 35 percent.
Corporate income tax
Obama would reduce the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent, while closing specific tax loopholes.
Romney wants to lower the corporate income tax rate to 25 percent but has been unclear about what loopholes he might close.
Obama would keep the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “ObamaCare.” The plan strives for universal health care coverage by requiring most people to buy insurance, expanding Medicaid for the poor, and subsidizing insurance coverage. The plan includes new taxes on investment income, medical devices, and in other areas.
Romney has vowed to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, even though he negotiated and signed a similar law in Massachusetts as governor. He says such reforms shouldn’t be forced upon states. Romney has also called for future reforms of Medicare, introducing a new “premium support system” that would give seniors a set amount of money to buy insurance.
Obama, sensitive to concerns of organized labor and other Democratic interest groups, has moved cautiously on trade issues. But he still helped pass free trade pacts with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia, with modifications designed to relieve concerns of unions. Obama has supported retaliatory trade actions against China on wind and solar manufacturing issues.
Romney and the Republican Party generally support expansion of free trade, but Romney has vowed to declare China a “currency manipulator” on his first day in office, which could start a process toward eventual trade sanctions.
Obama favors expansion of drilling for oil and natural gas in some parts of the country and coastal waters, to help make the nation more energy independent. Obama also has backed tougher auto efficiency standards and programs to promote renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, as a part of efforts to reduce pollutants associated with global climate change.
Romney wants to allow more domestic oil and natural gas drilling. He also wants to eliminate regulations “killing the coal industry” and to move immediately on construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada through the United States, a project the Obama administration has delayed.
Labor: Obama has supported the Employee Free Choice Act, also known as “card check,” that would make it easier to form unions without holding formal elections. Obama has also criticized “right to work” policies that make it easier for individual workers to opt out of unions and union dues.
Romney opposes “card check” and favors “right to work” laws in states. He has vowed to protect workers and businesses from what he calls “strong-arm labor union tactics” and reverse executive-branch orders that “tilt the playing field toward organized labor.”
Regulation: Obama has pushed for new limits on greenhouse gas emissions and “cap and trade” rules designed to cut carbon pollution, policies opposed by many businesses. Obama has said the greatest government burden on small businesses is taxes, which he says he has and will continue to cut.
Romney has called for a “cap” on the amount of costs regulatory agencies may impose on individuals and businesses through new rules and regulations. He has vowed to roll back some regulations on greenhouse gases and on small businesses.
Deficit and Balanced Budget Amendment: Obama opposes a “balanced budget amendment,” but has said he will commit to reducing the nation’s deficits through a balanced approach of spending cuts and higher taxes on more affluent Americans. He favors reduced defense spending in future years.
Romney favors a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget and supports reducing the nation’s deficit primarily by slowing down domestic spending, while maintaining defense spending at no less than 4 percent of the gross domestic product, a goal that would likely increase defense spending in future years.
Sources: Obama and Romney campaign literature; Brookings Institute; American Enterprise Institute; Citizens for Tax Justice; National Federation of Independent Business; and published reports.