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Whose Side Are You On?

Here's where John mCcain and Barack Obama stand on 10 key issues. Who would you* vote for?
*When the winner runs for re-election in 2012, most of you reading this will be able to vote.

By Patricia Smith

Even before Wall Street's September meltdown, the American economy was weakening as real estate prices sank, foreclosures and unemployment rose, and higher energy prices took a toll on America's wallets. It's no wonder the economy tops the list of voter concerns.

McCain wants to make President Bush's tax cuts permanent, and cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent to make American companies more competitive and spur economic growth. At the same time, he promises to balance the federal budget by 2013 with a one-year freeze on most discretionary spending, and by eliminating earmarks (funding for special projects in lawmakers' states and districts, like Alaska's infamous "bridge to nowhere"). Though he has long pushed for less government regulation of business, since the financial meltdown he and runningmate Sarah Palin have railed against Wall Street excesses and called for greater government oversight.

Obama wants to repeal the Bush tax cuts for households earning more than $250,000 a year, and use the additional revenue to cut taxes for middle- and working-class families. He says he would raise taxes on capital gains (profits on the sale of a house or stock, for example), enact a "windfall profits" tax on oil companies, and end tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas. In response to the current financial crisis, Obama has called for more government regulation of investment banks, mortgage brokers, and hedge funds, whose risky practices all contributed to the problem.

After more than five years of war and more than 4,100 American combat deaths, there are about 155,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. When and how should U.S. troops leave?

Obama says he would remove all combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months of taking office, with a much smaller force remaining for counter-terrorism missions and to protect U.S. diplomatic and civilian personnel. He says that a timetable for withdrawal will force the Iraqi government to get its act together and govern more effectively.

McCain opposes any timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops and says we must stay the course until Al Qaeda in Iraq is defeated and Iraqi forces are able to take over. A leading advocate of President Bush's troop surge, McCain believes that the best way to secure long-term peace in the region is to establish a stable and prosperous democracy in Iraq.

Both Obama and McCain believe that greenhouse gases are causing global climate change, are concerned about its long-term effects, and support a controversial cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions from industry. (A cap-and-trade system means factories and other pollution sources get a pollution "allowance." Those using less than their allotment can sell the remainder to other pollution sources that are using more.)

McCain favors giving away pollution allowances initially, and then letting companies buy and sell them. His goal is to reduce emissions to 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. McCain says he would consider joining an international treaty to reduce emissions if China and India participate. He cites President Teddy Roosevelt, who created our national parks system, as his model on environmental policy, and supports more money for national parks and protecting open space.

Obama would auction off the cap-and-trade pollution credits, with some of the revenue used for the development of clean-energy technology (see Energy). Obama's plan aims to reduce carbon emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. He also promises to beef up federal clean-air and clean-water standards.

High oil and gas prices are a huge burden on the economy, and America's dependence on unstable and unfriendly sources of foreign oil is a threat to national security.

Obama wants to invest $150 billion over 10 years on the development of clean alternative energy sources. He has called for a windfall profits tax on oil companies to fund a $1,000 tax rebate to help families with higher energy costs. He would mandate higher mileage standards and by 2015 wants one million plug-in hybrid cars that get up to 150 miles per gallon on the road. He supports investment in low-emissions coal plants and the construction of the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline, but opposes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Obama recently changed his position on offshore drilling, saying he'd consider a limited increase.

McCain calls his energy plan an "all of the above" approach, meaning he wants to take a variety of steps to attack the problem. He favors increased oil production in the United States, including drilling off-shore, but not in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He wants to build 45 new nuclear power plants (which are emissions-free) by 2030, and to develop technology that allows coal (which fuels many U.S. power plants) to burn more cleanly. He supports the development of "flex fuel" cars and alcohol-based fuels like ethanol. McCain opposes a windfall profits tax on oil companies, which he says would discourage investment in new oil exploration.

Seven years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden remains at large and Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups continue to threaten the U.S. and our allies around the world.

Obama says the Bush administration's approach to fighting terrorism has made Americans less safe. He believes the war in Iraq has been a distraction from the front line in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Obama says he would condition U.S. aid to Pakistan on whether it makes progress toward shutting down terrorist training camps. He has indicated he would authorize military actions in Pakistan—even without its approval—if necessary. Obama favors increasing foreign aid to prevent conflict-ridden nations from becoming terrorism incubators. He also favors a greater emphasis on diplomacy, including direct talks with Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

McCain believes that winning the war in Iraq is essential to the bigger goal of winning the war against terrorism. He says he would depend on international cooperation to find and disrupt terrorist organizations and to ensure that weapons of mass destruction do not fall into terrorists' hands. McCain opposes direct talks with Syria, Iran, and North Korea. He has indicated that Pakistan's cooperation would be necessary before he'd consider sending U.S. troops into the country on counter-terrorism missions.

There are 45 million Americans without health insurance, and the cost of health care continues to rise.

McCain emphasizes cutting costs and increasing competition among insurance providers. He would tax employer-provided health benefits, and give families a $5,000 federal tax credit so they could buy insurance on their own, and let them buy it from any state in the country. (It's now illegal to buy health insurance outside your own state.) The idea is to create more competition and discourage consumers from buying more coverage than they need, in order to hold down premiums and health-care costs.

Obama would offer subsidies for low-income people to buy insurance and require larger employers to provide insurance. He would expand Medicaid and existing programs so that all children would have health insurance. Obama's plan would also prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or charging them higher rates.

Since shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, U.S. troops have been fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, suffering more than 540 combat deaths. After several years of progress, the situation has deteriorated in the last year for Afghanistan and the 33,000 American troops deployed there.

McCain has called for an Iraq-style "surge" of additional troops to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan. The key to success there, he says, is providing security for the Afghan people. He would appoint a dedicated Afghanistan "war czar" to coordinate all aspects of the mission. McCain says he'd put increased pressure on neighboring Pakistan to cooperate with the U.S. and crack down on Taliban and Al Qaeda forces who take refuge across the border.

Obama would redeploy at least 7,000 U.S. troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, which he sees as the front line in the war against terrorism. He would also increase non-military aid by $1 billion for reconstruction projects to improve the lives of Afghans and prevent the country from sliding back into the chaos that allowed the Taliban to come to power and Al Qaeda to take refuge there.

There are 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, and the debate continues about the costs and benefits of their presence here.

Obama wants to provide a path to citizenship that includes learning English and paying fines for entering the country illegally. He supports driver's licenses for illegal immigrants and a guest-worker program similar to those the U.S. has had in the past. At the same time, he wants to increase penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants, and he voted for the fence that is being built along the Mexican border.

McCain helped write the failed bipartisan immigration reform bill of 2007. But he says he would no longer vote for that legislation, which would have created a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who paid fines and learned English. He says his top priority now is securing the border with Mexico. He also voted for the border fence and supports increased funding for the border patrol.

With five of the nine Justices in their 70s or older, the next President could end up appointing several new Justices (with confirmation by the Senate), potentially reshaping the Court—and the law—for decades.

Obama says he would nominate Justices with a progressive view of the Constitution. He supports Roe v. Wade, the controversial 1973 ruling that established a woman's right to an abortion, and has indicated he would appoint Justices who would uphold it. He voted against the confirmation of President Bush's appointments of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., both of whom have generally voted with the Court's more conservative members.

McCain says he would nominate reliably conservative Justices, and that Roe v. Wade should be overturned. He supported the Roberts and Alito nominations, and has spoken out against "judicial activism"—what some see as judges exceeding their authority by making law through their rulings. Since Congress is responsible for writing laws, McCain believes court rulings that effectively change the law violate the Founding Fathers' intent.

In an increasingly interconnected world, America's economic health is bound up with that of other nations. While the candidates have different attitudes toward free trade, both agree that it has many benefits and that globalization cannot be reversed.

McCain has long been a staunch advocate of free trade. He sees globalization as an opportunity for American workers, not a threat. He's a strong supporter of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and recently voted for a similar trade agreement that would increase U.S. trade with Central American countries. Noting that 95 percent of the world's consumers live outside the United States, McCain says that free access to world markets is key for the future health of the American economy and job growth. For that reason, he opposes tariffs on Chinese goods.

Obama has talked about renegotiating NAFTA to provide more protection for the environment and for American workers who worry about their jobs being outsourced or moved overseas. He also wants China to revalue its currency. (That would raise the price of Chinese goods in the U.S. and allow American goods to better compete with them.) If China doesn't comply, Obama says he would impose tariffs on Chinese imports.