— U.S. President Barack Obama, the Democratic incumbent seeking a second, four-year term in the White House, and his Republican challenger, wealthy businessman Mitt Romney, have sparred on the campaign trail over a variety of issues facing American voters.
Here are their contrasting views on several important domestic issues.
The state of the U.S. economy has emerged as the central concern for the American electorate. The U.S. economy, the world’s largest, fell into a deep recession in 2008 and 2009, its worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and it has been slow to recover. The national economy grew 2 percent in the last three months, a sluggish advance.
More than 12 million workers remain unemployed. The 7.8 percent jobless rate recorded in September was the lowest of the Obama presidency, but it is high by historical standards in the U.S., where the rate is normally closer to 5 percent. Since WW II, no U.S. president has been re-elected with a jobless rate above 7.4 percent.
U.S. businesses have added jobs for more than two-and-a-half years, but it was only recently that the cumulative total during Obama’s term topped the number of jobs lost in the first months of his White House tenure. He has cited the steady job growth as evidence that his policies are working. The president has also told voters that the government’s bailout of U.S. automakers that he supported saved the industry from demise, and that sharp, new regulation of Wall Street he signed into law over Republican opposition will prevent the kind of corporate excesses that contributed to the depth of the recession.
In his campaign, Romney has made his strongest attacks against the president’s economic record, saying Obama was handed a bad economy when he took office but made it worse. The Republican challenger says that with lower taxes, sharp cuts in government spending and the elimination of numerous regulations on businesses supported by Obama, the U.S. economy would grow much faster under a Romney presidency.
Romney has told voters his administration would add 12 million jobs to the U.S. economy over the next four years, a substantially faster pace than is now occurring. He has put forward a five-point plan to spur the economy, including greater U.S. energy independence from foreign oil imports, a cut in the federal government’s chronic budget deficits and new overseas trade deals to promote American exports.
Taxes, government spending
In a short version of their views, Obama, like most Democrats in the U.S., supports a more robust role for the federal government in American life, while Romney and fellow Republicans envision a sharply shrunken footprint for the national government.
Still, the person who is elected will have to manage a federal budget that under Obama’s watch has annually spent over $1 trillion more than it has collected in taxes. The country’s cumulative national debt now totals more than $16 trillion.
Congress is faced with spending decisions it must take by the end of the year, even before Obama or Romney takes the presidential oath of office in January. Other spending choices are looming in the first weeks of 2013. Obama failed two years ago to reach a long-term deal with congressional Republicans to rein in deficit spending and trim the national debt over the next decade, but he has said he will try again if re-elected.
During their campaigns, the two candidates have largely avoided disclosing what specific federal programs they would like to cut or keep. But they have diverged on their views of U.S. taxation.
Obama wants to raise taxes on the country’s wealthiest taxpayers -- including, as he tells voters, himself and Romney. The tax increase would hit couples making more than $250,000 annually.
Romney says he wants to keep the existing tax rates for all taxpayers, including cuts enacted during the Republican administration of President George W. Bush, and then trim them by another 20 percent. But he has declined to specify which tax breaks he would end to cover the cost of a new tax cut.
The 2010 congressional approval of a national health care overhaul was Obama’s signature domestic legislative achievement in the last four years. It set the U.S. on a path toward universal health care, but in two years will require all Americans to pay a tax if they do not have medical insurance. Only Democratic lawmakers supported the sweeping measure: not a single Republican in Congress voted for it.
The law came to be popularly known as Obamacare, first as derision from Republicans, although the president now uses the term as well. Its constitutionality was challenged by conservatives opposed to it, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it earlier this year.
Romney has vowed to repeal the law if he becomes president, saying it is an unwarranted federal takeover of the U.S. health care system. But his stance is complicated by the fact that the national law is patterned after a law adopted in Massachusetts when Romney was governor of the northeastern state. The Republican candidate says individual states should be allowed to adopt their own health care policies, just as Massachusetts did.
Obama supports the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the country.
Romney once supported the same ruling, but now says he opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or if a mother’s life is in danger. The Republican says the 1973 decision should be reversed in a new high court ruling and abortion laws left up to individual states.
Last May, in a change from his past stance, the president announced that he supports legal recognition of same-sex marriage - an issue on which, surveys show, Americans are closely divided. Obama has also rescinded the country’s ban on openly gay people serving in the country’s military.
Romney says that marriage is between a man and a woman and opposes legal recognition of same-sex marriage. He says same-sex marriage should be banned with an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.