Obama and Romney: Where they stand on the issues

WASHINGTON (AP) — A look at where Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney stand on a selection of issues:

ECONOMY:

Obama: Term marked by high unemployment, a deep recession that began in previous administration and officially ended within six months and gradual recovery with persistently high jobless rates of over 8 percent, until the rate dropped to 7.8 in September, the same as it was in February 2009, Obama's first full month in office. The rate hit a high of 10 percent in October 2009. Businesses have added jobs for more than two years straight while public sector jobs have lagged. Obama responded to the recession with a roughly $800 billion stimulus plan that nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated cut the unemployment rate by up to 1.8 percentage points. Continued implementation of Wall Street and auto industry bailouts begun under George W. Bush. Proposes tax breaks for U.S. manufacturers producing domestically or repatriating jobs from abroad and tax penalties for U.S. companies outsourcing jobs. Won approval of South Korea, Panama and Colombia free-trade pacts begun under previous administration, completing the biggest round of trade liberalization since the North American Free Trade Agreement and other pacts went into effect in the 1990s.

Romney: Lower taxes, less regulation, balanced budget, more trade deals to spur growth. Replace jobless benefits with unemployment savings accounts. Proposes replacing certain provisions of the law toughening financial industry regulations after the meltdown in that sector. Proposes changing the law tightening accounting corporate regulations to ease requirements for mid-sized companies. "We don't want to tell the world that Republicans are against all regulation. No, regulation is necessary to make a free market work. But it has to be updated and modern."

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TAXES:

Obama: Wants to raise taxes on the wealthy and ensure 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. Health care law provides for tax on highest-value health insurance plans. Together with Congress, built a first-term record of significant tax cuts for families and business, 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.

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HEALTH CARE:

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 for middle-income people will subsidize premiums, people without work-based insurance will have access to new markets and small business gets help for offering insurance. Millions of low-income uninsured are to be reached through expansion of Medicaid with hefty subsidies to states, but Supreme Court limited federal power to penalize states that want to opt out of the expansion. Law's biggest changes start in 2014. "Nobody is going to go broke just because they get sick. And Americans will no longer be denied or dropped by their insurance companies just when they need care the most. That's what change is."

Health care law improves Medicare benefits, adding better coverage for seniors with high prescription costs as well as removing co-pays for a set of preventive benefits. It also cuts Medicare payments to 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 Medicare trust fund. Any future deficit-reduction deal, though, is likely to increase costs for middle-class and upper-income Medicare recipients, and Obama has indicated a willingness to consider raising the eligibility age to 67 from 65.

Romney: Promises to repeal Obama's health care law modeled largely after his universal health care achievement in Massachusetts because he says states, not Washington, should drive policy on the uninsured. Would expand individual tax-advantaged medical savings accounts and let the savings be used for insurance premiums as well as personal medical costs. Would let insurance be sold across state lines to expand options, and restrict malpractice awards to restrain health care costs. 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 health care overhaul.

On Medicare, introduce "generous" but undetermined subsidies to help future retirees buy private insurance or join a government plan modeled on traditional Medicare. Gradually increase the eligibility age to 67. Repealing Obama's health care 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. This would have the unintended consequence of hastening the insolvency of Medicare's trust fund. Would turn Medicaid program over to the states as a block grant.

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DEBT:

Obama: His pledge to cut the deficit "we inherited" in half by the end of his first term will be missed by a wide margin. The deficit when he took office was $1.2 trillion, and the $800 billion stimulus bill Obama signed soon afterward increased the shortfall to more than $1.4 trillion. The deficit for the just-completed 2012 budget year registered at $1.2 trillion, marking the fourth consecutive year of trillion-dollar-plus red ink. Now 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 and impose a minimum 30 percent tax on incomes above $1 million. The target also assumes a reduction in the amount of interest the government must pay on its debt and incorporates $1 trillion in cuts already signed into law. Nation's debt surpassed $16 trillion this year. Federal spending is estimated at 23.5 percent of gross domestic product this year, up from about 20 percent in the previous administration, and is forecast to decline to 21.8 percent by 2016. Reached agreement with congressional Republicans to cut $487 billion in military spending over a decade.

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 vital specifics are lacking. At the same time would increase military spending, reverse $716 billion in Medicare cuts and cut taxes. Defended 2008 bailout of financial institutions as a necessary step to avoid the system's collapse, opposed the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler. Stayed silent on the debt-ceiling deal during its negotiation, only announcing his opposition to the final agreement shortly before lawmakers voted on it. Instead, endorsed GOP "cut, cap and balance" bill that had no chance of enactment. Favors constitutional balanced budget amendment. Proposes 10 percent cut in federal workforce, elimination of $1.6 billion in Amtrak subsidies and cuts of $600 million in support for the arts and broadcasting.

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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, a step that could benefit 800,000 to 1.4 million. "It's a temporary measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while offering some justice to these young people." Took the step after failing to deliver on a 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, nearly 400,000 in each of the last three years.

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. The government's existing E-Verify system is voluntary. Proposes more visas for holders of advanced degrees in math, science and engineering who have U.S. job offers and would award permanent residency to foreign students who graduate from U.S. schools with a degree in those fields. Would end caps on visas for spouses and minor children of legal immigrants. Would honor work permits for immigrants who benefit from Obama's new policy and promises to put a comprehensive immigration plan into place before those permits expire.

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ENERGY and 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. Approved drilling plan in Arctic Ocean opposed by environmentalists. Proposes Congress give oil market regulators more power to control price manipulation by speculators and stiffer fines for doing so. Sets goal of cutting oil imports in half by 2020.

Achieved historic increases in fuel economy standards for automobiles 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. Spent heavily on green energy and has embraced nuclear power as a clean source.

Failed to persuade a Democratic Congress to pass limits he promised on carbon emissions. Shelved plan to toughen health standards on lung-damaging smog. Rejected Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada but supports fast-track approval of a segment of it. Proposes ending subsidies to oil industry but has failed to persuade Congress to do so.

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 the Keystone XL pipeline. Supports opening the Atlantic and Pacific outer continental shelves to drilling, as well as Western lands, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and offshore Alaska. He also has proposed reducing obstacles to coal, natural gas and nuclear energy development. Proposes accelerating drilling permits in areas where exploration has already been approved for developers with good safety records.

Says green power has yet to become viable and the causes of climate change are unknown. Proposes to remove carbon dioxide from list of pollutants controlled by Clean Air Act and amend clean water and air laws to ensure the cost of complying with regulations is balanced against environmental benefit. Says cap and trade would "rocket energy prices."

Blames high gas prices on Obama's decisions to limit oil drilling in environmentally sensitive areas and on overzealous regulation.

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SOCIAL SECURITY:

Obama: Has not proposed a comprehensive plan to address Social Security's long-term financial problems. During budget negotiations in 2011, proposed adopting a new measurement 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, for the next generation of retirees, raise the retirement age for full benefits by one or two years and reduce inflation increases in benefits for wealthier recipients.

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