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Jason Leopold: When Campaigns Were About Issues

Remember When Presidential Campaigns Used to Be About The Issues?

By Jason Leopold

Somewhere in between the furor surrounding those dubious National Guard memos that purportedly show how President Bush shirked his military duties some 30 years ago lies the meat of this ferocious, mud slinging presidential campaign; the policies the candidates are promoting that will shape the lives for a majority of Americans over the next four years.

Pundits on both sides of the political spectrum have pontificated, for the most part, that Democratic nominee John Kerry and incumbent George W. Bush are virtually one in the same when it comes to issues such as foreign policy and homeland security and as such Bush is the better candidate because he's already got the experience running the country. But a closer look at Bush and Kerry's campaign platforms shows that there's a striking difference between the two candidates, particularly on issues that affect the working-class.

With a little more than a month to go before the November presidential election it's crucial that voters get a chance to see how both candidates shape up when it comes to issues such as the economy, healthcare, social security-issues that affect every American-instead of the daily dose of the tabloid style politics the mainstream media has been dishing out as of late.

A look at both candidates' platforms proves that Bush's policies will benefit the wealthy and that Kerry's proposed policies will better serve the middle class. An honest look at both candidates shows the fundamental differences between the two and should finally put the opinions (that Kerry and Bush are identical of the pundits to rest.

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An examination of Kerry's 20-year record in the U.S. Senate reveals a politician whose voting record benefited working families and individuals when it came to jobs, healthcare, worker safety, education and civil rights. Kerry's platform aims to maintain that trend, albeit by rolling back Bush's tax cuts in order to fund healthcare initiatives and social security.

President Bush's four-year record in the White House is much starker. During his tenure, Bush repealed important worker safety laws, appointed extremist judges and cut taxes for the nation's wealthiest individuals and biggest corporations. Recently, Bush pushed through a new federal regulation gutting workers' overtime rights. Bush has promised that if he is reelected he will impose further tax cuts, which in the long run will put this country deeper into debt. Bush has maintained that cutting taxes will lead to a more robust economy. This couldn't be further from the truth.

According to a report in the Sept. 6, issue of The New Yorker magazine, "it is far from clear that cutting taxes leads to more saving in the economy as a whole. A tax cut that isn't accompanied by spending cuts, such as Bush's, forces the Treasury to borrow more, which lowers the national rate of saving. By the same logic, one sure way to increase national saving is for the government to raise taxes and run a budget surplus. For some reason, conservative economists rarely mention this option."

In fact, a peek into the future reveals the true impact of both candidates' economic policies on working-class families, according to some economists.

If Bush wins in November, Americans will be saddled with higher taxes by 2020 to pay off debt incurred under Bush's watch and it's certain that there will be much fewer social programs. Moreover, under Bush's economic plan, most of Americans' paychecks will go toward paying off individual debt by 2020. Under Kerry's proposals, tax dollars would be used to fund social programs like social security, education and healthcare resulting in a robust middle-class by 2020 which will provide stability to the economy in the long run.

There's no question that Bush's tax cuts benefit the upper one percent of the population that earns more than $1.2 million a year. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are just two of the benefactors of Bush's tax cuts that fall into that category. Under Bush and Cheney, the federal deficit and the loss of millions of jobs over the past four years is the largest since Herbert Hoover was in office seventy years ago.

According to a study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, two-thirds of the benefits of Bush's tax cuts went to households in the top fifth of the income distribution and a third went to households in the top one-hundredth of the distribution.

"To put it another way, families earning $1.2 million a year-that is, the richest one percent in the country-received a tax break of roughly $78,500. Families earning $57,000 a year-middle income families-got a tax cut of about $1,100," The New Yorker reported.

Kerry's major economic policy is rolled up in his health insurance initiative, estimated to cost between $653 billion and $950 billion over 10 years. It would provide coverage for an about 27 million people and would require the federal government to take over a portion of the most expensive, or "catastrophic," illnesses for businesses. There are nearly 44 million Americans who lack health insurance.

Kerry aims to finance his package by rolling back Bush's tax cuts for households with income of more than $200,000 a year. Under his proposal, the top two tax rates would increase from the current 33 percent and 35 percent rates to the 36 percent and 39.6 percent rates that were in effect when Bush was sworn in as President. Other cuts in tax rates that affected capital gains and dividends would also be rolled back for those upper-income families, and Kerry would delay the repeal of the estate tax, which is currently scheduled to expire in 2010.

Under Kerry's plan, the federal government is expected to generate about $860 billion to fund his initiative and more Americans would have access to affordable healthcare and prescription drugs, according to the Tax Policy Center, jointly run by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution.

Bush's plan of expanding health coverage through tax credits and personal savings accounts would cover about 2.5 million people and cost about $90 billion. That may sound like a better deal if you're one of the few Americans who earn at least $1.2 million a year. But a majority of Americans don't fall into that income bracket and live paycheck to paycheck, so for them, higher taxes that would virtually go unnoticed because they earn much less would seem like a no-brainer because what they get in return is an affordable healthcare plan.

Even some of the most ardent conservative economists agree that Kerry's fiscal plan is better in terms of planning for the future than Bush's policy, which provides immediate gratification but will wind up requiring sweeping changes in decades to come.

Last month, 10 Nobel laureates in economics wrote in a public letter that the Bush administration has "embarked on a reckless and extreme course that endangers the long-term economic health of our nation."

The authors include 1970 laureate Paul Samuelson from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and 2001 laureate Joseph Stiglitz from Columbia University, a former chief economist at the World Bank and former adviser to President Bill Clinton.

The economists, who endorsed Kerry for president, said that Kerry "understands that sound economic policy requires a substantial change in direction, and we support him for president."

The differences between Bush and Kerry's economic policies "are wider than in any other presidential election in our experience," the letter said. Bush believes that the "tax cuts benefiting the most-wealthy Americans are the answer to almost every economic problem." But the tax cut has not resulted in the creation of new jobs and has turned budget surpluses "into enormous budget deficits. President Bush's fiscal irresponsibility threatens the long-term economic security and prosperity of our nation," the letter said.

If Bush is elected, Republicans will "continue down a route that will reverse almost a century of American history," according to The New Yorker. "Since the personal income tax was introduced in 1913, it has been based on two principles: the burden of taxation is distributed according to the ability to pay; and capital and labor carry their fair share. The Bush administration appears set on undermining both of these principles" despite a gaping budget deficit that threatens to get bigger.

Even the late President Ronald Reagan revamped his economic policy and raised taxes in 1982 and 1983 when it became clear that Reaganomics contributed heavily to the growing federal budget deficit. Bush's radical economic agenda, if elected, will have an unprecedented financial impact on the middle-class while enriching a select few. Kerry's policy, on the other hand, makes economic sense for the working class, this country's majority.

Wall Street quietly concedes too that Bush's fiscal policies will, in the long-term, lead to massive borrowing and higher interest rates.

Indeed, as Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, recently pointed out at a congressional hearing on the state of the economy: "the prospects for the federal budget over the longer term remain troubling," Greenspan said recently. "With the baby boomers starting to retire in a few years and health spending continuing to soar, our budget position will almost surely deteriorate substantially in coming years if current policies remain in place."

Greenspan's dire warning of how the Republican-controlled Congress and White House have managed the country's fiscal policy bolstered Kerry's argument for new leadership.

As he said in the past, Greenspan urged Congress to restore the budget rules that were in effect during Bill Clinton's presidency, which required tax cuts and spending increases to be offset either by tax boosts or spending cuts in other areas. Greenspan warned that if lawmakers don't change their fiscal policies, government borrowing eventually will crowd out private borrowing and drive interest rates higher.

If that were the case, Greenspan said, the government would wind up spending additional funds on interest payments, setting in motion a series of events that would spin out of control.

Those are the facts. And no matter what becomes of Bush's National Guard records or Kerry's Vietnam-era medals, nothing will change that.

Here's where Bush and Kerry stand on other vital issues.


The fundamental difference between the two candidates goes much deeper and runs the gamut from Medicare to international trade to civil rights. On Medicare, Kerry said he would support a makeover of Bush's prescription drug law that the president signed last year. On the campaign trail, Kerry said he wants Medicare to use its buying power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for senior citizens and to allow Americans to buy cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.

Critics of the current Medicare law say that Bush signed a prescription drug bill that created a huge gap in coverage that could cost seniors thousands of dollars a year, prohibits Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices and encourages employers to drop health care coverage for retirees. Bush also supports the pharmaceutical industry by supporting the ban on individuals who want to buy prescription drugs from Canada and restricting state efforts to negotiate lower drug prices.

Overtime Pay

One of the most controversial issues that has received scant attention in the mainstream media is new rules governing overtime pay. While Kerry co-sponsored legislation to block the Bush administration from issuing new rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act that could do away with overtime pay for millions of workers, Bush's pushed through new rules that would remove those benefits affecting workers who earn as $23,600 a year. Moreover, Kerry opposed to legislation that would replace overtime pay with unpaid compensatory time. Bush, on the other hand, has said he supports replacing overtime pay with comp time.

New Jobs

Kerry has promised to create millions of new jobs by the end of his first term in office. According to his campaign website, Kerry's plan would provide companies that help create manufacturing jobs a new jobs tax credit and he would eliminate the tax breaks companies receive when they move jobs overseas. Bush has presided over the worst job loss in U.S. history and his administration has said that outsourcing American jobs is good for the economy. Under Bush, corporations that move jobs overseas receive some $60 billion in tax credits. In the 2004 Economic Report of the President, Bush said, "when a good or service is produced more cheaply abroad, it makes more sense to import it than to provide it domestically."


The candidates differ on other minor issues as well. Kerry supports the rights of employees to join or form a union without fear they will be intimidated or threatened by their employer. He's a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, a piece of legislation that would allow an employee to form a union via signature cards and would penalize employers that violate workers' right to unionize. Bush, according to a Jan. 20, 2002, report in the Washington Post, said he does not support the Employee Free Choice Act because of the burden it would place on businesses.

Social Security

On Social Security, Kerry has criticized a plan promoted by Bush to privatize Social Security and has voted in opposition of the proposal every time it came up for a vote in the Senate. Kerry says that Bush's huge tax cuts would have to be financed by cutting into Social Security benefits. Bush has consistently refused to respond to the accuracy of Kerry's claim.

Pensions and 401(k)

If elected president, Kerry said he would appoint a director of personal economic security to guarantee the safety of employee pensions and 401k's in order to prevent another Enron or WorldCom debacle, which wiped out billions of dollars in employee benefits. Moreover, as more and more industries, such as the airline sector, are cutting into pension funds to finance company shortfalls, Kerry would enact new rules prohibiting employers from raiding their employees' retirement funds. Bush has said he wants to further loosen the restrictions that safeguard pensions and 401k's to make it easier for corporations to tap into.

Affirmative Action

Kerry is a staunch supporter of affirmative action in schools and businesses and his track record in the Senate proves that, according to dozens of bills he voted in favor of supporting minorities. Last year, the Bush administration filed a legal brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting others who challenged the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies.

No Child Left Behind

One of Bush's biggest failures as president is the gross under funding of a policy that he made the cornerstone of his 2000 campaign: the No Child Left Behind Act, which ensures that teachers and students maintain the highest academic standards in public schools. Because Bush did not adequately fund the initiative, scores of schools across the country were forced to cut various arts-related programs or shift funds from other areas of education in order to meet the acts conditions, as required under federal law. In Bush's fiscal year 2005 budget proposal, the No Child Left Behind Act comes in at $9.4 billion under congressional authorization levels, according to the budget proposal. Kerry has promised to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act, but he has not said how he will do so.

Safety Issues in the Workplace

President Bush signed legislation that supported the lobbying efforts of major corporations to repeal the country's first ergonomics standards agreement, a measure that was designed to prevent the more than two million stress injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, that are reported and treated annually. Kerry voted against overturning the ergonomics standard agreement and promised to reinstate it if he is elected president.

Minimum Wage

Bush has maintained since he first took office that he does not support an increase to the federal minimum wage, which, in terms of inflation, is at a 30-year low and vowed to block any effort to increase it. Kerry, according to his campaign website, wants to increase the minimum wage to at least $8.46 an hour, from $5.15 an hour, in order to keep up with inflation.


© 2004 Jason Leopold

© Scoop Media

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