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On the Issues: Where they stand

A final look at the presidential candidates' positions on key issues as we near Election Day

POSTED: December 28, 2008 5:00 a.m.
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Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate for president

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IMMIGRATION
McCAIN: Let undocumented immigrants enroll in a program to become legal. Require them to learn English, pay back taxes and pass a citizenship course. Target "bad-actor" employers with targeted audits. Beef up border security with physical and virtual high-tech barriers and more funding and training of border forces.

OBAMA: Let undocumented immigrants who are in the country illegally pay a fine, learn English and get at the end of the line to become citizens. Increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and supply workers for unfilled jobs. Crack down on U.S. employers who hire workers illegally.

HEALTH CARE
McCAIN: Use competition to improve the quality of health insurance with greater variety to match people's needs, lower prices and portability. Families should be able to buy insurance nationwide, across state lines. Reform tax code to offer choices beyond employer-based coverage; family will receive a direct refundable tax credit of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families to offset the cost of insurance. Expand benefits of health savings accounts. Work with states to establish a guaranteed access plan.

OBAMA: Make national health plan available to all, including self-employed and small businesses, to buy coverage similar to the plan available to members of Congress. The plan would include guaranteed eligibility; comprehensive benefits, including preventive, maternity and mental care; affordable premiums, co-pays and deductibles; subsidies for individuals and families who do not qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP but still need financial assistance. Require that all children have health care coverage via expansion of Medicaid and SCHIP.

FOREIGN POLICY
McCAIN: No withdrawal timetable in Iraq but consider bringing most troops home by 2013. Would send three additional combat brigades to Afghanistan and double size of Afghan army to 160,000 troops. Rejects direct talks with Tehran and would seek tighter U.N. sanctions to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear program. Urges admitting Georgia and Ukraine to NATO. Favors Patriot Act. Would close the base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

OBAMA: Pledges to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months, by the end of next year, four months earlier than his previous pledge. A residual force would remain to conduct targeted counterterrorism missions. Send at least two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan and seek greater contributions from NATO. Negotiate with Iran without "self-defeating preconditions." Close base at Guantanamo Bay. Revise Patriot Act.

ECONOMY
McCAIN: Balance federal budget by the end of his term by controlling federal spending, eliminating earmarks, streamlining government operations. Reform Social Security and control Medicare growth. Lower corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. Keep the top tax rate at 35 percent, maintain the 15 percent rates on dividends and capital gains, and phase out the Alternative Minimum Tax. Lower trade barriers. Overhaul unemployment insurance and make it a program for retraining, relocating and assisting workers who have lost a job. Spend $300 billion of the Wall Street rescue package to buy distressed mortgages directly from homeowners and replace them with "manageable mortgages."

OBAMA: Inject $75 billion into the economy through tax cuts and direct spending, targeting working families, seniors, homeowners and the unemployed. Cut taxes up to $500 per person, or $1,000 per family, for lower and middle-income Americans; eliminate income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000; eliminate all capital gains taxes on small businesses. Push for policies that open up foreign markets to American goods, including revising NAFTA. Provide financing to transportation infrastructure projects; raise the minimum wage; expand family and medical leave. Create a 10 percent universal mortgage credit to provide homeowners who do not itemize tax relief; reform bankrupcty laws.

ENERGY
McCAIN: Backs more nuclear power and other alternative energy sources, such as wind, hydro and solar power. Pledges to build 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030 and eventually 100 total. Opposes windfall taxes on U.S. oil companies. Favors lifting restrictions on offshore drilling and providinge incentives to states permitting offshore exploration. Develop advanced transportation technologies and alternative fuels. Promote and expand use of domestic natural gas. Offer a $5,000 tax credit for consumers who buy a zero-carbon emission vehicle. Fully enforce CAFE emissions standards. Spend $2 billion annually on clean coal technology.

OBAMA: Eliminate U.S. need for Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil within 10 years. Enact a windfall profits tax to provide a $1,000 emergency energy rebate to families. Crack down on energy speculation. Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025. Develop and deploy clean coal technology. Increase fuel economy standards 4 percent per year while providing $4 billion for domestic automakers to retool their manufacturing facilities in America to produce hybrid vehicles, and provide tax credit for those who buy them.

EDUCATION
McCAIN: Favors charter schools, home schooling and voucher system, when approved by local officials, and giving parents tax credits to help pay for private schools. Voted for No Child Left Behind legislation, but says that is only the beginning of education reform. Wants to expand virtual learning in part by targeting $500 million in current federal funds to build new virtual schools and develop online courses.

OBAMA: Reform No Child Left Behind, recruiting high-quality teachers and rewarding talented ones in part with higher pay not linked to standardized test scores. Pledges to quadruple Early Head Start with $10 billion-a-year injection and also increase funding for Head Start. Proposes tax credit of up to $4,000 for college students who perform 100 hours of community service a year. Wants to make community college entirely free nationwide.

ENVIRONMENT
McCAIN: Favors a market-based system to cut carbon emissions. Backs a cap-and-trade system that would set limits on greenhouse gas emissions while encouraging development of low-cost compliance options. Wants greenhouse emissions cut by 60 percent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. (Small businesses would be exempt.) Streamline process for deploying new low-carbon technologies. Engage the United Nations toward an international solution to climate change.

OBAMA: Proposes to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, compared with 1990 levels, partly through economywide cap-and-trade system. Establish a national low-carbon fuel standard. Re-engage with the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to address climate problem.

SOCIAL SECURITY
McCAIN: Wants to supplement Social Security benefits with individual investment accounts. Prefers slowing growth of benefits rather than raising taxes.

OBAMA: Strongly opposes privatization, pledges to keep Social Security solvent and protect middle-class families from tax increases of benefit cuts. Increase maximum amount of earnings covered by Social Security.

Source: wire reports, candidates' Web sites 




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