A comparison of Obama and Romney's positions on top issues

Posted Sunday, Nov. 04, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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WASHINGTON -- A look at where Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney stand on a selection of issues, in brief:

Abortion

Obama: Supports access to abortion. Healthcare law requires contraceptives to be available for free for women enrolled in workplace health plans.

Romney: Opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or risk to the woman's life. Previously supported abortion access. Says state law should guide abortion rights, and Roe v. Wade should be reversed by a future Supreme Court ruling. Said he would end federal aid to Planned Parenthood.

Debt

Obama: Promises to cut projected deficits by $4 trillion over 10 years, a goal that will require Congress to raise the capital gains tax, boost taxes on households earning more than $250,000 a year, impose a minimum 30 percent tax on incomes above $1 million, and more. Failed in first-term pledge to cut deficit he inherited by half; recently completed fourth consecutive budget year of trillion-dollar-plus red ink.

Romney: Promises to cut $500 billion per year from the federal budget by 2016 to bring spending below 20 percent of the U.S. economy and to balance it by 2020, but specifics are lacking. Would increase military spending, reverse $716 billion in Medicare cuts and cut taxes. Favors constitutional balanced budget amendment.

Education

Obama: Has approved waivers freeing states from the most onerous requirements of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law. "Race to the Top" grant competition has rewarded winning states with billions of dollars for pursuing education policies that Obama supports. Won approval from Congress for a $10,000 college tax credit over four years and increases in Pell Grants and other financial aid.

Romney: Supported federal accountability standards of No Child Left Behind law. 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. Says increases in federal student aid encourage tuition to go up, too. Wants to see private lenders return to the federal student loan program.

Energy, environment

Obama: Ordered temporary moratorium on deep-water drilling after the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but U.S. produced more oil in 2010 than it has since 2003, and all forms of energy production have increased under Obama. Achieved historic increases in fuel economy standards that will save money at the pump while raising the cost of new vehicles. Achieved first-ever regulations on heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming and on toxic mercury pollution from power plants. Failed to persuade a Democratic Congress to pass limits he promised on carbon emissions. Set goal of cutting oil imports in half by 2020.

Romney: Pledges U.S. will become independent of energy sources outside of North America by 2020, through more aggressive exploitation of domestic oil, gas, coal and other resources, and quick approval of Keystone XL pipeline from Canada. Supports opening Atlantic and Pacific outer continental shelves to drilling, as well as Western lands, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and offshore Alaska. Says green power has yet to become viable and causes of climate change are unproved.

Foreign policy

Obama: Opposes near-term military strike on Iran but holds that option open if it proves the only way to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Declined to repeat the Libya air power commitment for Syrian opposition, and instead seeks international pressure against Syrian government. Chastised Israel for continuing to build housing settlements in disputed areas and pressed both sides to begin a new round of peace talks based on land borders established after 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict. Signed law to expand military and civilian cooperation with Israel. Sought penalties against China for unfair trade but opposes branding China a currency manipulator.

Romney: Appears to present a clearer U.S. military threat to Iran and has spoken in more permissive terms about Israel's right to act against Iran's nuclear facilities, without explicitly approving of such a step and while saying U.S. military action against Iran would be a last resort. Would identify those in Syrian opposition who share U.S. values, then work with U.S. allies to "ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat" Syrian government. But has not proposed direct U.S. arms supplies to rebels and would rule out U.S. military action for now. Associates himself more closely with hard-line Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pledges more military assistance to Israel. Branded Russia the "No. 1 geopolitical foe" of the U.S. and threatened to label China a currency manipulator in a move that could lead to broad trade sanctions.

Gay marriage

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.

Romney: Opposes legal recognition of same-sex marriage and says it should be banned with a constitutional amendment, not left to states.

Guns

Obama: Has not pushed for stricter gun laws as president. Signed laws letting people carry concealed weapons in national parks and in checked bags on Amtrak trains. Favors "robust steps, within existing law" to address gun issues, White House says. Voices support for renewed ban on assault-type weapons but has not tried to get that done. Previously backed stronger gun controls.

Romney: Opposes stricter gun control laws. Suggested after the Colorado theater shooting that he favors tougher enforcement of existing gun laws. As Massachusetts governor, vowed in 2002 to protect the state's "tough gun laws," and in 2004 signed a Massachusetts ban on assault weapons.

Healthcare

Obama: Achieved landmark overhaul putting U.S. on path to universal coverage now that Supreme Court has upheld the law's mandate for almost everyone to obtain insurance. Under the law, insurers will be banned from denying coverage to people with pre-existing illness, tax credits will subsidize premiums, people without work-based insurance will have access to new markets, small business gets help for offering insurance and Medicaid will expand.

Romney: Promises to work for repeal of the law modeled largely after his universal healthcare achievement in Massachusetts because he says states, not Washington, should drive policy on the uninsured. Says he would protect people with pre-existing conditions, though his plan only does so for those who maintain continuous coverage, not a major change from federal protections in effect before Obama's healthcare overhaul. Would expand individual tax-advantaged medical savings accounts and let savings be used for insurance premiums as well as personal medical costs.

Immigration

Obama: Issued directive in June that immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children be exempted from deportation and granted work permits if they apply. Took the temporary step after failing to deliver on 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.

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. Would establish a national immigration-status verification system for employers and punish them if they hire noncitizens who do not prove their authorized status. Would end visa caps for spouses and minor children of legal immigrants. Would honor work permits for immigrants who benefit from Obama's new policy but not accept new applicants under the program, and promises to put in place a comprehensive immigration plan before those permits expire.

Medicare

Obama: His healthcare law improves coverage for beneficiaries with high prescription costs and removes co-pays for a set of preventive benefits. It also cuts Medicare spending for hospitals and other providers by more than $700 billion over a decade. Those cuts are being used to provide health insurance to more working-age Americans, and the government also counts them as extending the life of the program's giant trust fund. But he hasn't ruled out increasing costs for middle-class and upper-income Medicare recipients or increasing the eligibility age from 65 to 67.

Romney: Introduce "generous" but undetermined subsidies to help future retirees buy private insurance or join a government plan modeled on traditional Medicare. Gradually increase eligibility age to 67. Repealing Obama's healthcare law would roll back improved benefits for seniors unless Congress acts to protect them. It also would reverse Obama's Medicare cuts to hospitals and other providers, which could hasten insolvency of Medicare's trust fund.

Social Security

Obama: Has not proposed a comprehensive plan to address Social Security's long-term financial problems. In 2011, proposed a new measure 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: Protect the status quo for people 55 and over, but raise the retirement age for full benefits for the next generation of retirees by one or two years and reduce inflation increases in benefits for wealthier recipients.

Taxes

Obama: Wants to raise taxes on the wealthy and ensure that they pay 30 percent of their income at minimum. Supports extending Bush-era tax cuts for everyone making under $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 two tax rates go back up 3 to 4 percentage points to 39.6 percent and 36 percent, and raise rates on capital gains and dividends for the wealthy. Healthcare law provides for tax on highest-value health insurance plans. Together with Congress, built a first-term record of significant tax cuts, some temporary.

Romney: Keep Bush-era tax cuts for all incomes and drop all tax rates further, 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 below $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.

Terrorism

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 late in George W. Bush's presidency. Largely carried forward Bush's key anti-terrorism policies, including detention of suspects at Guantanamo Bay despite promise to close the prison. Expanded use of unmanned drone strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan and Yemen. The deadly attack by militants on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September raised questions that persist about the quality of U.S. intelligence and about why requests for added security there were denied before the assault.

Romney: No constitutional rights for foreign terrorism suspects. In 2007, refused to rule out use of waterboarding to interrogate terrorist suspects. In 2011, his campaign said he does not consider waterboarding to be torture.

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