Voter’s Guide To the Issues

Education

U.S. President George W. Bush (R) and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings walk out of the Friendship Public Charter School’s Woodridge Elementary and Middle campus in Washington, DC.

Republicans: Less federal government and more privatization. Republican candidates tend to offer qualified support for President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (nclb) education plan, while calling for more local control and flexibility. The original nclb, they argue, gave the Federal Government too much power. Rudy Giuliani is among the most vocal advocates for privatization and school choice—providing vouchers for private and parochial as well as charter schools.

Democrats: Don’t leave the money behind for fixing our schools. Though nclb passed in 2001 with broad bipartisan support, almost all Democrats now agree it is underfunded and in need of major reform. Democrats would overhaul nclb to ensure that schools are not punished for under-whelming performance. But they struggle to determine exactly how to require accountability. Most argue that educational progress should be measured differently and that there is too much emphasis on tests. Increasing access to prekindergarten programs and investing more in public education continue to be priorities.

Immigration

A U.S. Border Patrol agent patrols along the fence line of the U.S.—Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona.

Republicans: Tighten borders and restrict immigration. There is broad gop support for building a permanent fence along the Mexican border. Many conservatives oppose letting illegal immigrants apply for citizenship. More moderate approaches, like those once proposed by John McCain and Giuliani, provide a path to citizenship for those who pay fines and learn English. Most candidates support tougher penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Democrats: Provide a clear path to citizenship. The Democratic focus has been on providing illegal immigrants a clear path to citizenship that involves requirements to learn English and pay a fine, imposing stricter penalties on those who hire undocumented workers and enforcing current immigration laws.Most Democratic candidates oppose the idea of giving illegal aliens driver’s licenses. The issue of legal immigration often divides Democrats. Politicians from rural areas want to allow in immigrants who could fill essential local jobs. Their suburban colleagues say skilled immigrants compete with vulnerable workers.

Trade

A Chinese toy vender looks after a store at a toy wholesale market in Guangzhou, south of China’s Guangdong province.

Republicans: Expand free trade. More aggressive advocates of free-trade agreements than their Democratic counterparts, Republicans insist that decreasing trade barriers with other nations is necessary to compete in the global economy. Most supported the Central American Free Trade Agreement (cafta). At the same time, some Republicans have pushed for tougher laws to protect American patents and technology—particularly from piracy by the Chinese.

Democrats: Embrace fair or “smart” trade. Democrats were largely opposed to cafta and argue that free-trade agreements must be fair. That means including labor and environmental protections, as well as retraining and providing other assistance to U.S. workers whose jobs are jeopardized by lowering economic barriers between countries. They want to enforce the protections guaranteed in past trade agreements.

Environment

Republicans: Go nuclear and pursue energy independence. Some in the party are skeptical of the human role in global warming, but most agree climate change should be addressed. Most advocate expanded use of nuclear energy, while only some support higher fuel-economy standards for automobiles and a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions. A popular solution for moving toward energy independence is drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (anwr).

Democrats: Stop climate change by reducing carbon emissions. The party of green guru Al Gore has rallied around instituting a cap-and-trade system to reduce U.S. carbon emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Democrats also support reducing energy use, raising corporate average fuel-economy (cafe) standards for cars and making federal buildings more efficient.

Iraq

Samantha Kominic hugs her boyfriend Lance Corp. Earnest Hall as he arrives home in Camp Pendleton, California.

Republicans: The mission must be accomplished. The Republicans are almost all committed to staying in Iraq indefinitely and oppose timetables for troop withdrawals. All candidates except Paul supported Bush’s surge, which increased troop levels in 2007. They disagree about how to determine when Iraq is stable. When local police are fully trained? Attacks decrease? 69% of gop voters want troops to stay until Iraq is stabilized and 73% of Democrats want troops withdrawn as soon as possible, says a December 2007 Pew Research poll.

Democrats: Bring troops home soon—but when? Although many Democrats voted in 2002 in support of Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, there are few who still defend that action. These days, the debate is not about whether to withdraw troops from Iraq, but how soon. All Democratic presidential candidates opposed Bush’s surge in 2007 to increase troop levels, and they have pushed for a timetable on an exit strategy for Iraq. Despite their opposition, Democrats still overwhelmingly vote to provide funding for troops in Iraq. Congress passed the latest spending bill by a vote of 397 to 27 in the House and 92 to 3 in the Senate.

Health Care

A patient meets with his doctor in Columbia, South Carolina.

Republicans: Fix the system through cost containment. Republicans haven’t traditionally seen health care as a top priority—but they are increasingly concerned about skyrocketing premiums, which have risen four times as fast as wages since 2000. They oppose government control of the health-care industry and mandates for health insurance. Favorite solutions include converting to electronic medical records, limiting malpractice suits and encouraging preventive care.

Democrats: Achieve universal access to health care. Democrats all agree on a goal of universal health-care coverage that includes the 47 million Americans who are currently uninsured. Some plans would set up a public health-care system and allow Americans to choose between the government-regulated system, which would work like Medicare, or a pool of private plans. All employers, except very small ones, must cover their workers. Democrats would pay for the system by rolling back Bush’s tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year. They endorse giving patients the right to sue hmos for medical costs and damages.

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