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Continued: Where candidates stand on some key issues

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  • Last update: October 13, 2012 - 9:37 PM

china

The United States accuses China of flouting trade rules and undervaluing its currency to helps its exporters, hurting U.S. competitors and jobs. But imposing tariffs could set off a trade war and drive up prices for U.S. consumers. Tensions now have spread to the automotive sector: The United States is seeking international rulings against Chinese subsidies for its auto exports and against Chinese duties on U.S. autos. Romney says he'll get tougher on China's trade violations. Obama has taken a variety of trade actions against China, but on the currency issue, he has opted to wait for economic forces to encourage Beijing to raise values. Cheap Chinese goods have benefited U.S. consumers and restrained inflation, but have hurt U.S. manufacturers. And one study estimated that between 2001 and 2010, 2.8 million U.S. jobs were lost or displaced to China.

iran

With the Iraq war over and Afghanistan winding down, Iran is the most likely place for a new U.S. military conflict. Obama says he'll prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He hopes sanctions alongside negotiations can get Iran to stop uranium enrichment. But the strategy hasn't worked yet. Obama holds out the threat of military action as a last resort. Romney says the United States needs to present a greater military threat.

But attacking Iran is no light matter. That is why neither candidate clearly calls for military action. Tehran can disrupt global fuel supplies, hit U.S. allies in the Gulf or support proxies such as Hezbollah in acts of terrorism. It could also draw the United States into an unwanted new war in the Muslim world.

syria

Syria's conflict is the most violent to emerge from last year's Arab Spring. Obama wants Syrian President Bashar Assad to leave power, but he won't use U.S. military force to make that happen. Romney says "more assertive" U.S. tactics are needed, without fully spelling them out. The future of Arab democracy could hinge on the crisis. After dictatorships fell in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, critics say Assad's government has resorted to torture and mass killings to stay in power. Assad long has helped Iran aid Hamas and Hezbollah, destabilizing Lebanon while threatening Israel's security and U.S. interests in the Middle East. But extremists among the opposition, Assad's weapons of mass destruction and worries about Israel's border security have policymakers wary about deeper involvement.

drilling and pipeline

Obama rejected a Keystone XL pipeline proposal -- which would carry oil from Canada's oil or tar sands to the Texas Gulf Coast -- saying that a deadline set by Congress did not leave enough time for environmental review. He has left open the possibility of approving a revised plan. He favors opening up new offshore areas for oil and gas exploration but has proceeded cautiously after the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. His five-year plan includes preliminary work off Virginia and the south Atlantic states. He has supported Shell's efforts to drill in Alaska's Chukchi Sea over protests by environmentalists. Mitt Romney has accused him of stifling gulf exploration, but the number of rigs there is about the same as before the spill.

He has urged firms to replace coal with natural gas, which has lowered greenhouse gas emissions. Obama has called for cutting U.S. oil imports by a third by 2020, a target well within reach as a result of higher U.S. output and lower consumption.

Romney has said that he would immediately approve the Keystone pipeline. He would open up all federal land for oil and gas drilling, including the Pacific, Atlantic and Alaska coasts, as well as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Although oil and gas production has increased sharply since President Obama took office, Romney has accused him of trying to stifle fossil fuels. Romney says he would aim for North American energy independence, boosting domestic output and relying on Canada and Mexico to fill U.S. oil import needs. He would strip the Interior Department of its power to lease federal land and turn that over to the states. He would put regulation of drilling in the hands of states, not the EPA. He also would remove the EPA's ability to regulate carbon dioxide.

supreme court appointments

With four justices in their 70s, odds are good that whoever wins in November will fill at least one Supreme Court seat. The next justice could dramatically alter the direction of a court split between conservatives and liberals. Obama already has put his stamp on the court by selecting liberal-leaning Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Romney has promised to name justices in the mold of the court's conservatives. Big decisions on health care, gun rights and abortion have turned on 5-4 votes.

wall street regulation

The debate over banking rules is, at its core, a dispute about how to prevent another economic cataclysm. The financial crisis that peaked in 2008 touched off a global economic slowdown. After the crisis, Congress passed a sprawling overhaul of banking rules and oversight. The law gives regulators new tools to shutter banks without resorting to emergency bailouts. It restricts risky lending and establishes a new agency to protect consumers from misleading marketing. Romney believes the law -- which Obama fought for -- is making it harder for companies to invest and grow. He has pledged to repeal it.

income inequality and taxes

The income gap between the rich and everyone else is getting larger, while middle incomes stagnate. Obama would raise taxes on households earning more than $250,000 a year, plus set a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for those earning $1 million or more. Romney favors extending Bush-era tax cuts for everyone. In addition, proposes reducing all income tax rates by 20 percent from where they are now.

higher education

Obama engineered an overhaul of the student-loan industry in 2010, teaming up with Democrats in Congress to end a program that subsidized banks and other institutions to issue government-backed college loans. Cutting out the middleman saved an estimated $61 billion over 10 years. The change expanded the government's direct lending to students.

Romney contends that "a flood of federal dollars" is driving up the cost of higher education. Romney says federal Pell grants should be refocused on students who most need them. That implies a restructuring of a need-based program that is a cornerstone of financial aid. But advisers say he would not seek to reduce the maximum Pell grant award of $5,550 a year. The Republican would reevaluate Obama's 2010 student-loan overhaul, which expanded direct government lending and cut out private lenders. Romney contends that the private sector is better equipped than the government to help ensure that students are clearly informed about their obligations when they apply for loans. Romney would scrap the Obama administration's "gainful employment" rules that target for-profit colleges.

health care

Although Obama has said he would be open to making small changes in the 2010 health-care law, he would vigorously defend its main planks and press for its implementation in a second term. One of his biggest challenges: trying to increase cooperation from the states, several of which oppose the law. Obama also will prod states to create insurance exchanges. Under the law, federal authorities will have to set up and run an exchange if a state declines to do so.

Romney has vowed to repeal the law, saying states should fashion their own policies. He also has talked about issuing waivers to let states opt out of specific provisions. He also has spoken favorably about a few of the law's provisions. He has said he would like to allow adult children to stay on their parents' health plans "up to whatever age they might like." The current law allows children up to age 26. And he has said that insurers should cover people with preexisting conditions. His campaign has clarified that he is referring to preexisting-condition coverage for people with no gaps in their coverage. That's a lower standard than in the health-care law.

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china The U.S. accuses China of flouting trade rules and undervaluing its currency to helps its exporters, hurting American competitors and jobs. But imposing tariffs could set off a trade war and drive up prices for American consumers. Tensions now have spread to the automotive sector: The U.S. is seeking international rulings against Chinese subsidies for its auto and auto-parts exports and against Chinese duties on U.S. autos. Romney says he'll get tougher on China's trade violations. Obama has taken a variety of trade actions against China, but on the currency issue, he has opted to wait for economic forces to encourage Beijing to raise values. Cheap Chinese goods have benefited American consumers and restrained inflation. But those imports have hurt American manufacturers. And many U.S. companies outsource production to China. One study estimated that between 2001 and 2010, 2.8 million U.S. jobs were lost or displaced to China. iran With the Iraq war over and Afghanistan winding down, Iran is the most likely place for a new U.S. military conflict. Obama says he'll prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He hopes sanctions alongside negotiations can get Iran to halt uranium enrichment. But the strategy hasn't worked yet. Obama holds out the threat of military action as a last resort. Romney accuses Obama of being weak on Iran. He says the U.S. needs to present a greater military threat. Attacking Iran is no light matter, however. That is why neither candidate clearly calls for military action. Tehran can disrupt global fuel supplies, hit U.S. allies in the Gulf or support proxies such as Hezbollah in acts of terrorism. It could also draw the U.S. into an unwanted new war in the Muslim world. syria Syria's conflict is the most violent to emerge from last year's Arab Spring. Activists say at least 23,000 people have died over the last 18 months. Obama wants Syrian President Bashar Assad to leave power. But he won't use U.S. military force to make that happen. Romney says "more assertive" U.S. tactics are needed, without fully spelling them out. The future of Arab democracy could hinge on the crisis. After dictatorships fell in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, critics say Assad's government has resorted to torture and mass killings to stay in power. Its success would deny the U.S. a major strategic victory. Assad long has helped Iran aid Hamas and Hezbollah, destabilizing Lebanon while threatening Israel's security and U.S. interests in the Middle East. But extremists among the opposition, Assad's weapons of mass destruction and worries about Israel's border security have policymakers wary about deeper involvement. supreme court appointments With four justices in their 70s, odds are good that whoever wins in November will fill at least one Supreme Court seat. The next justice could dramatically alter the direction of a court split between conservatives and liberals. One new face could mean a sea change in how millions get health care, shape gay rights and much more. Obama already has put his stamp on the court by selecting liberal-leaning Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, 50-somethings who could serve a quarter-century or more. Romney has promised to name justices in the mold of the court's conservatives. Since the New Deal, Supreme Court decisions have made huge differences in American lives, from rulings to uphold Social Security, minimum wage laws and other Depression-era reforms to ringing endorsements of equal rights. Big decisions on health care, gun rights and abortion have turned on 5-4 votes. wall street regulation The debate over banking rules is, at its core, a dispute about how to prevent another economic cataclysm. The financial crisis that peaked in 2008 touched off a global economic slowdown. Four years later, the recovery remains painfully slow. After the crisis, Congress passed a sprawling overhaul of banking rules and oversight. The law gives regulators new tools to shutter banks without resorting to emergency bailouts. It restricts risky lending and establishes a new agency to protect consumers from misleading marketing and other traps. The new rules also boost companies' costs, according to Romney and many in the business community. Romney believes the law is prolonging the nation's economic agony by making it harder for companies to invest and grow. He has pledged to repeal it. Obama fought for and supports the law. income inequality The income gap between the rich and everyone else is getting larger, while middle incomes stagnate. That's raised concerns that the middle class isn't sharing in economic growth as it used to. Obama would raise taxes on households earning more than $250,000 a year, plus set a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for those earning $1 million or more. He also wants to spend more on education, "a gateway to the middle class." Romney would cut taxes more broadly and says that will generate enough growth to raise all incomes. Income inequality has risen for three decades and worsened since the recession ended. The Census Bureau found the highest-earning 20 percent earned 51.1 percent of all income last year. That was the biggest share on records dating to 1967. The share earned by households in the middle 20 percent fell to 14.3 percent, a record low. health care America's health care system is unsustainable. It's not one problem, but three: cost, quality and coverage. The U.S. has world-class hospitals and doctors. But it spends far more than other advanced countries and people aren't much healthier. And in an aging society, there's no reliable system for long-term care. Obama's expansion of coverage for the uninsured hits high gear in 2014. Obama keeps today's Medicare while trying to slow costs. He also extends Medicaid. Romney would repeal Obama's health care law but hasn't spelled out what he'd do instead. On Medicare, he favors the option of a government payment to help future retirees get private coverage. The risk of expanding coverage: Health costs consume a growing share of the stressed economy. The risk of not: Millions continue uninsured or saddled with heavy coverage costs as the population grows older. guns Gun violence has been splayed across front pages with alarming frequency lately: the movie theater killings in Colorado, the Sikh temple shootings in Wisconsin, the gunfire outside the Empire State Building and more. Guns are used in two-thirds of homicides, according to the FBI. But the murder rate is less than half what it was two decades ago. Neither Obama nor Romney has had much to say about guns during the campaign. Obama hasn't pushed gun control measures as president; Romney says new gun laws aren't needed. It's getting harder to argue that stricter gun laws are needed when violent crime has been decreasing without them. But the next president may well fill at least one Supreme Court seat, and the court is narrowly divided on gun control. An Obama appointee could be expected to be friendlier to gun controls than would a Romney nominee. climage change This year America's weather has been hotter and more extreme than ever before, records show. Yet the presidential candidates aren't talking about it. In the U.S. July was the hottest month ever recorded and this year is on track to be the warmest. Scientists say that's both from natural drought and man-made global warming. Each decade since the 1970s has been nearly one-third of a degree warmer than the previous one. Sea levels are rising while glaciers and summer Arctic sea ice are shrinking. Plants are blooming earlier. Some species could die because of global warming. Obama proposed a bill to cap power plant carbon dioxide emissions, but it died in Congress. Still, he's doubling auto mileage standards and put billions into cleaner energy. Romney now questions the science of man-made global warming and says some actions to curb emissions could hurt an already struggling economy. campaign finance This election probably will cost more than $1 billion. Big donors who help cover the tab could gain outsized influence with the election's winner. Your voice may not be heard as loudly as a result. Recent court decisions have stripped away restrictions on how elections are financed, allowing the very rich to afford more speech than the rest. In turn, super PACs have flourished, thanks as well to limitless contributions from the wealthy - including contributors who have business before the government. Disclosure rules offer a glimpse into who's behind the money. But the information is often too vague to be useful. And nonprofits that run so-called issue ads don't have to reveal donors. Obama criticized the Supreme Court for removing campaign finance restrictions. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney supported the ruling. Both are using the lax rules with gusto. news services
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