Where do they stand?

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a recession, two wars and four tax cuts have sent the U.S. treasury from surpluses to record deficits. The Nov. 2 presidential election will take place against that backdrop, with sharp differences between President Bush and John Kerry.

IRAQ

Bush and Kerry agree the United States cannot leave Iraq until it is stable. Bush argues Kerry has shifted positions on Iraq and that his criticisms would undermine the war there and the global war on terrorism. Bush says Iraq is part of the larger war on terrorism and that democracy there would transform the Middle East. Bush says the coalition - with Britain and 27 other countries - shows the United States is working with international partners. He does not offer a timetable for withdrawal. Bush does not seek to add troops to the active duty military but says he would support Pentagon requests.

Kerry voted to give Bush authority to invade Iraq, but accuses Bush of misleading the public and rushing to war without enough allies or a postwar plan. Kerry says that under his plan, U.S. troops could start heading home in six months. The plan leans heavily on luring other countries to contribute troops and resources. He wants to speed training and equipping of Iraqi military and police. Kerry says the Iraq war was a diversion from bigger threats, including Osama bin Laden, and that it siphoned resources from Afghanistan. He says the military is employing a "backdoor draft" of members of the National Guard and Reserves. He proposes increasing active troop strength by 40,000 and doubling the number of special forces.


NUCLEAR WEAPONS

Bush says the breakup of a Pakistani arms market selling to countries like Libya, which has since renounced its nuclear program, shows he is stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. He has refused to negotiate directly with North Korea, insisting that neighbors in Asia sit at the table as well. Bush says it would be a mistake to talk directly to North Korea, which broke a previous arms deal with the United States, because it would ease pressure to comply with international demands. Bush also is deploying a missile defense system designed to shoot down nuclear missiles. Critics say the system doesn't work and is too expensive.

Kerry is against the missile defense system. He opposes administration efforts to develop new low-yield nuclear weapons intended to penetrate subsurface bunkers. Kerry says he would talk to North Korea and that doing so would not relieve pressure on North Korea from other countries. He contends the United States has done too little to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Kerry says he would urge the International Atomic Energy Agency to seek United Nations action if Iran refuses to stop processing nuclear fuel and allow inspections. He says he would complete the process of securing nuclear weapon stockpiles in Russia in four years.


HOMELAND SECURITY

Security at ports and airports has increased and hundreds of millions of dollars has gone to states for security improvements since Bush established the Department of Homeland Security. Much of Bush's security strategy, however, lies overseas. He argues terrorists must be confronted abroad to prevent another strike in America. He says freedom in oppressive countries is an antidote to terrorism. Bush is involved in congressional efforts to reform intelligence agencies but does not support all recommendations from the 9/11 Commission. He wants to expand the USA Patriot Act, a broad law that Congress passed soon after Sept. 11, 2001, that gave authorities more powers.

Kerry says he would keep most of the Patriot Act but would restrict secret searches and inspection of previously private records, such as library records. Like Bush, Kerry says it is critical to strike terrorists abroad, but he emphasizes the need to justify attacks to the world. Kerry says Bush has resisted intelligence reforms and that he would carry out all recommendations from the 9/11 Commission. He says he would boost inspections of cargo on ships and airplanes, although he has not been specific.


ENERGY

Bush would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other public lands to drilling. He would ease construction of nuclear power plants, oil refineries and liquefied natural gas terminals while expanding offshore drilling, although not off the Florida coast. He proposes $4 billion in tax incentives to promote conservation technologies, $1.4 billion over 10 years to make homes more energy-efficient and a $4,000 tax credit for hybrid gasoline-electric and other fuel efficient vehicles. However, he has helped keep down fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks compared to some proposals. Bush says he would require 5 billion gallons of ethanol or biodiesel in motor fuels by 2012 and continue a $1.7 billion, five-year initiative to develop hydrogen technologies.

Kerry would boost alternative fuels and continue drilling in areas already being developed, such as the central Gulf of Mexico and the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. Kerry opposes opening ANWR or waters off the Florida coast to drilling. Kerry would increase imports from non-OPEC countries, such as Russia and Canada. He would boost renewable energy sources to 20 percent of electricity generation by expanding tax credits to more types of fuels and increasing incentives for clean and renewable energy.

ENVIRONMENT

Bush favors incentives over mandates to cut pollution. Bush has rolled back or altered several environmental rules since he took office. He pledges to cut power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury by 70 percent with a market-based cap-and-trade program that he says includes needed flexibility. Environmental groups say it will worsen pollution. He has proposed to relax rules that require power plants to add pollution technologies when they modernize or expand. Bush pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases.

Kerry vows to reverse environmental decisions by Bush on air, water and logging on federal lands. He would reinstate a tax on businesses that pays for environmental cleanup under the Superfund program, which expired in 1995. Kerry would dedicate more oil and gas revenues to preserving and restoring habitats. He wants power plants to cut hazardous air emissions. He would offer incentives to family farmers to reduce pollution runoff while cracking down on large factory farms. He says the Kyoto Protocol is flawed but suggests it could be renegotiated.

EDUCATION

Bush says education funding is up more than 30 percent since 2001, but Democrats complain funding for the No Child Left Behind Act, a landmark school reform law, falls short of promises. Bush supports private school vouchers and wants new achievement tests in public schools. He would spend an additional $200 million to help high school students who struggle with reading and the same amount to develop plans to track the progress of students entering high school. He wants $269 million for teachers to help high school students do better in math. Bush would increase maximum college Pell grants by $1,000, to $5,050, and would raise the student loan limit for first-year students. Bush would spend $125 million for community college programs offering credit to high school students.

Kerry would create a $200 billion education trust fund to pay for reforms and would allow schools to contest annual evaluations under No Child Left Behind, which Bush says would weaken reforms. Kerry opposes private school vouchers. He would allow the government to issue $24.8 billion in bonds to build and renovate schools. In exchange for youths working full time in national service jobs for two years, he would pay the equivalent of four years of state college tuition. He would raise aid to students who work part-time teaching and tutoring younger students. Families could take a tax credit on the first $4,000 of college tuition over four years. He says he would find $13 billion over 10 years for his initiatives by cracking down on profits of banks making student loans.

HEALTH CARE

Bush signed a Medicare reform law with the first prescription drug benefit for seniors at a cost of at least $400 billion over 10 years, although that figure has since been disputed as too low. The measure included tax-free health savings accounts for high-deductible insurance plans, which Bush wants to expand. He proposes grants for low-income people and tax credits for individuals and businesses to help the uninsured buy coverage. He says he's studying the safety of allowing seniors to import drugs from Canada, where drugs cost less. Bush would cap malpractice damages, saying frivolous lawsuits drive up health care costs. He says the government would partner with states and private groups in a billion-dollar campaign to sign up eligible children for health services.

Kerry would allow people between 55 and 64 to join the federal employee health care plan. Under Kerry's plan, which he estimates would cost $653 billion over 10 years, the government would help pay catastrophic claims for employers and health plans that lower premiums. He wants the federal government to pay to insure 20 million low-income children in the state-federal Medicaid program for the poor, in exchange for states expanding coverage of low-income adults. Kerry voted for the Medicare prescription drug law but says it falls short. He would allow consumers to import U.S.-made drugs from Canada. He would allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices with drug companies, which Bush opposes. He would hold lawyers to legitimacy tests when filing suits but opposes limiting the right to sue.

SOCIAL SECURITY

Bush continues to press for Social Security reforms that would allow younger workers to invest part of their retirement savings in private accounts. Bush says benefits for current and near retirees would not be affected. Many plans along these lines, however, include cutting benefits and raising the retirement age at some point. Estimates put the price tag in the first 10 years between $1 trillion and $2 trillion.

Kerry opposes private accounts and benefit cuts. He doesn't advocate specific changes to Social Security, which in 2018 is expected to begin paying out more than it takes in. The fund will only cover 73 percent of benefits by 2042, but Kerry argues growing the economy and controlling spending would strengthen Social Security.

JOBS & ECONOMY

Bush's plan to strengthen the economy and create jobs involves stimulation from tax cuts and domestic energy production as well as education improvements, expanded job training and more money for research and development. Expanded international trade is another major factor. He argues trade opens opportunities for U.S. goods and adds domestic jobs. Some Democrats and Republicans say cheap labor and lax environmental rules in competing countries puts the United States at a disadvantage, but Bush promises to negotiate fair deals and to enforce them. He vows to eliminate or loosen rules that he says put a burden on small businesses. He has resisted raising the minimum wage.

Kerry would dissuade companies from sending jobs overseas by closing tax breaks that encourage it. He says new tax breaks to spur domestic manufacturing would increase U.S. jobs. Like Bush, Kerry proposes to add jobs with more domestic energy production, lower health care costs, more money for research and development, and changes to education intended to better prepare workers. He contends existing trade agreements are not being enforced, which he would change. He pledges to crack down on China, which he says cheats in the global marketplace. He would increase the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7 by 2007.

TAXES & SPENDING

Bush proposed, and Congress passed, tax cuts for individuals and corporations. Many are temporary, including a new 10 percent tax bracket, a reduction in the marriage penalty and a phase-out of the estate tax. Congress extended some cuts this year. Bush, who says tax cuts shortened the recession, wants to make them permanent. He says restraining spending would help halve the deficit in five years.

Kerry proposes to roll back tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 a year, which he says would help halve the deficit in four years while paying for new initiatives. He would restore capital gains and dividend rates for families making more than $200,000 on income earned above that amount. He plans to close corporate tax loopholes and restore congressional caps on discretionary spending. Kerry would keep the estate tax on the largest estates. He pledged not to raise taxes on people making less than $200,000. He supports eliminating the marriage penalty and boosting the child tax credit.

VETERANS

Bush has battled veterans wanting more health care money, even though his 2005 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs would provide $20 billion more than in 2001. He opposes making increases for VA health care automatic rather than up to Congress, calling it too expensive. The VA has cut waiting times at hospitals and clinics but accomplished that by excluding higher-income veterans without service-connected disabilities. Bush proposes higher co-payments and fees for some in VA health care and ending certain co-payments for low-income vets. He signed legislation that phases in an allowance for certain vets to collect retirement and disability pay at the same time if they are at least 50 percent disabled, an issue known as concurrent receipt, but he says it would be too expensive to extend that to all disabled, retired vets.

Kerry supports mandatory funding for VA health care. Legislation he cosponsored would have a net increased cost to the government of $473 billion from 2005 through 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That does not take into account his support to reopen VA care to the excluded group of vets - numbering more than 500,000 next year. He supports full concurrent receipt, which was estimated last year to cost $58 billion over 10 years compared to the limited allowance signed into law at a cost of $16.3 billion. He has criticized an ongoing plan to reorient health care facilities, requiring some to close so that others may open where greater numbers of vets now live.

GAY MARRIAGE

Bush has supported a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, arguing "activist judges" undermine marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Bush has maintained a ban on gays openly serving in the military.

Kerry opposes gay marriage but supports civil unions. He opposes a constitutional ban on gay marriage and would leave the definition of marriage to states. He would lift the so-called "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military. He would expand hate crimes protection to gays.

ABORTION

Bush opposes abortion and signed into law a ban, which has been blocked in court, on the so-called "partial-birth abortion" procedure. Bush also opposes allowing taxpayer money to be spent on abortions or abortion counseling. Bush says he would not apply an abortion test to nominations for the U.S. Supreme Court. He prohibited federal funding to be used on embryonic stem cell research except on stem cell lines already in existence at the time of his order in 2001 because human embryos must be destroyed to harvest the cells.

Kerry supports federal funding for new embryonic stem cell research, which many scientists believe could lead to treatments for serious diseases. He supports abortion rights, voted against the partial-birth abortion ban and has said his Supreme Court nominees would uphold Roe v. Wade. He has voted to ban partial-birth abortion with exemptions for saving the life of the mother, but he opposed the version that Bush signed into law because it lacked that exception.

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