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Where they stand

Compiled by RON BRACKETT

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000


Social security

In Bush's plan, younger Americans would get an opportunity to divert an unspecified portion (an estimated 2 percent) of their income away from the taxes they pay to Social Security into a private retirement account invested in stocks and bonds. Bush says that when the younger people reach retirement age, they'll have more money because stocks and bonds usually grow larger over time than Social Security benefits. The downside is that the diversion would not resolve Social Security's long-term cash deficits, which are projected to begin in 2015 and rise indefinitely. For those who did not invest in stocks and bonds, or if the market turned sour, there could be smaller retirement incomes.

Gore's plan would put most of the projected federal budget surplus over the next 10 years into paying down the national debt and would transfer into the Social Security trust fund amounts equivalent to the interest saved on the national debt. He would promote private savings by having the government match up to $1,000 per year the amount individuals contribute (maximum $1,500) to a supplemental retirement account. Gore does not address Social Security's long-term cash deficits. And if the government spent the projected budget surplus or distributed it through tax cuts and failed to pay down the national debt, the country by 2015 would begin to face trillions of dollars worth of red ink in the Social Security trust fund as baby boomers started drawing benefits.

Medicare/prescription drug coverage

Most people on Medicare today get prescription drug coverage even without a drug benefit. Almost 70 percent pay some of their prescription drug bills with private health insurance, Medicaid (if they are very poor) or a Medicare HMO.

Slightly more than 30 percent, however, must pay cash for prescriptions or rely on medications donated by pharmaceutical companies. Not surprisingly, these people use far fewer drugs and spend about twice as much out-of-pocket each year.

The problem isn't limited to the very poor. About 40 percent of people without drug coverage have incomes at least twice the federal poverty level.

Gore's prescription drug plan would cover as much as half of the cost of a person's drug bills each year, up to $2,500 after 10 years. The plan would cover all prescription drug expenses exceeding $4,000 per year. Beneficiaries would pay premiums of $350 a year initially, rising to $540 when the plan is fully phased in, with the government picking up the other half of the cost of coverage. Beneficiaries would pay a 50 percent co-payment for each prescription, and would have one opportunity to sign up when they reach 65. Otherwise, they could obtain drug coverage only if dropped by their HMO or retiree drug plan.

Bush's prescription drug proposal is linked to restructuring Medicare so that people would be able to choose coverage from a larger range of options than is available now. Private insurers who choose to participate will have to offer a plan that includes drug coverage. The premiums would be determined by each insurer or HMO. They would determine co-payments and deductibles for each beneficiary, too. The government would subsidize 25 percent of the cost of any plan's drug coverage. Campaign officials estimate that would be an average of $800 a year for each beneficiary. Beneficiaries could switch plans once a year. It would cover all out-of-pocket medical expenses (not just those from the purchase of drugs) over $6,000.

Bush's plan would cover the full cost of health care coverage, including prescription drugs, for seniors with incomes below $11,300 for individuals and $15,200 for couples. The subsidies would phase out at $14,590 for individuals and $19,680 for couples.

Gore's plan offers the same subsidies, but they would phase out at income levels of $12,525 for individuals and $16,875 for couples.

Tax cuts

In the brave new era of sustained economic prosperity, the Democratic and Republican nominees are staking everything on their political blueprints for redistributing surpluses projected to total $4.6-trillion over the coming decade.

Bush would use a huge chunk of that for an across-the-board, $1.3-trillion tax cut that would bestow its greatest benefits on wealthier Americans, who pay most of the taxes. His plan generally cuts all income tax rates, with the lowest dropping to 10 percent and the highest to 33 percent. It would also lower the marriage penalty paid by married couples that file jointly by restoring the 10 percent deduction for two-earner families; raise the child tax credit from $500 to $1,000; increase the annual contribution level on Education Savings Accounts from $500 to $5,000 for couples earning up to $150,000 and singles with incomes up to $95,000; eliminate the estate tax; and allow charitable deductions to be taken by people who don't itemize.

Gore is offering a much smaller package of tax cuts and credits, totaling $480-billion, that is largely targeted to lower- and middle-income families and to such areas as the environment and job training. He would reduce the marriage penalty by increasing the standard deduction for married couples who file jointly; give a tax deduction or a 28 percent tax credit on up to $10,000 of college tuition and fees; create a tax credit for a parent who stays home with a child under age 1; permit a $3,000 tax credit for eligible middle-class families that provide long-term care for an ill or disabled relative; exempt family assets valued up to $5-million from the estate tax; expand the earned income tax credit.

Education

Gore and Bush have laid out expansive plans for the federal role in education.

Gore favors big federal programs that dictate how states spend new federal money: $50-billion for preschool for all 4-year-olds, $16-billion to hire teachers and raise their pay, unspecified billions of dollars to reduce class sizes and $8-billion to build schools or renovate those in disrepair. His plan would cost $170-billion in new spending over a decade, including $55-billion in tax breaks on college tuition for middle-class families.

Bush is inclined to send money and allow states or school districts to decide how to spend it. His new spending would total $47-billion over 10 years. His most costly education proposal is a nearly $11-billion increase in Pell grants, which go to low- and moderate-income students to pay for college. He would also let families put $5,000 per year per student into education savings accounts from which money could be withdrawn tax-free for K-12 expenses.

Bush has downplayed the one divisive provision in his education plan -- vouchers, a word he no longer uses to describe his call to give disadvantaged students in failing public schools $1,500 in federal and state funds, money they could use to attend a private school. Gore has vowed never to support government vouchers for private school tuition.

Early on, Bush seized on accountability as one of his most emphatically stated education themes, and his plan for failing schools has financial sanctions. He would give such schools three years to show progress before taking away 5 percent of their federal aid, Gore would wait just two years before shutting them down and reopening them with new staffs.

Gore also wants to require that teachers pass a test in the main subject they teach and take licensing exams that are uniformly challenging across the country. He would also offer $10,000 bonuses and retraining aid to those who switch careers to teaching, plus bonuses of "up to $10,000" to those who go to college to become teachers and agree to serve in "a school that needs your help."

Both candidates favor the creation of more charter schools.

Foreign policy

Both are internationalists, willing to use American economic and military might abroad, and supporters of free trade as the surest way of advancing U.S. values and interests. They differ sharply, however, over how to define American interests, particularly how and when to use the country's armed services.

Bush is less inclined to intervene, saying the United States must have a clear national interest before committing troops or prestige. Geographically, he lists Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas as the places where the United States has vital interests. Once committed, he is more willing to act alone if necessary. He believes the United States should eventually leave the peacekeeping in the Balkans to the Europeans and withdraw the 11,400 American troops there, which compose about 20 percent of the peacekeeping force in the region.

To counter criticism that he is inexperienced in foreign policy, Bush promises to surround himself with steady hands from his father's administration, including running mate Dick Cheney and retired Gen. Colin Powell.

Gore is far more experienced in foreign affairs, from his long work on arms control issues in the Congress to his extensive negotiations with the Russians during the Clinton-Gore administration. He defines American interests more broadly, saying it is in the country's interest also to stop genocide, the spread of AIDS or pollution across national borders, and he endorses using the American military in such nation-building missions. He is also more likely to work through international organizations such as the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund to accomplish U.S. goals.

Abortion

BUSH: Tolerates abortion in cases of rape, incest or when a woman's life is in jeopardy from the pregnancy.

GORE: Believes abortion is a "fundamental personal right."

Affirmative action

BUSH: Opposes racial preferences.

GORE: Favors affirmative action.

Campaign finance

BUSH: Would ban soft money, raise the $1,000 limit on contributions and require full disclosure.

GORE: Favors ban on soft money and increasing taxpayer financing of elections. Require TV networks to give candidates free time.

Child care

BUSH: Unspecified extra spending on after-school programs.

GORE: Favors significant spending on child care, including subsidies and tax credits for low-income families and mothers at home. Ensure preschool is available for all children. Allow workers to choose time off instead of overtime pay. Expand family leave law to cover firms with 25 or more workers and to let parents take time off for teacher visits and child's routine medical appointments.

Defense

BUSH: Would increase spending $45-billion over 10 years. Plans to "skip a generation" of weapons, earmark 20 percent of procurement for new generation of weapons. Increase research and development by $20-billion over five years. Might reduce purchases of tactical aircraft. Develop a global missile defense system to protect the United States, its friends and allies as well as U.S. forces overseas. Spend additional $1-billion on military pay increases.

GORE: Would increase spending $100-billion over 10 years. Continue current plans for new weapons, including Comanche helicopter and three new tactical aircraft: F-22, F/A-18-E-F, and Joint Strike Fighter. Continue current investments in research and development. Continue development of $60-billion, land-based missile defense system capable of defending the United States from a small number of missiles. Backed two Clinton administration military pay raises that total 8.5 percent since last year. Fully fund the military health care system.

Environment

BUSH: Supports existing moratorium on California and Florida offshore drilling. Is becoming "more convinced" global warming exists but opposes unratified treaty to cut greenhouse gases. Unspecified increase in spending on conservation.

GORE: Move beyond moratorium and ban all new offshore oil drilling in federal waters off Florida and California, including zones where companies have spent billions to secure drilling rights. Spend $2-billion over 10 years to set aside more parkland, paying for it by charging hard-rock mining companies to extract minerals from federal lands. Led U.S. efforts for climate-change treaty.

Gun control

BUSH: Enforce existing laws. Raise age for handgun purchases to 21. Supports instant background checks at gun shows, opposes universal gun registration.

GORE: Supports mandatory photo ID licenses for handgun buyers. Would require manufacturers and federally licensed sellers to report gun sales to a state authority to help trace the owner when gun is used in crime. Supports banning "Saturday night specials."

Health care

BUSH: Expand medical savings accounts. Strengthen tax incentives to small businesses that provide health care to employees.

GORE: Expand Medicare coverage, without guaranteeing universal access, and create new prescription drug benefit offering up to $1,000 a year to cover half the drug costs of recipients paying $24 a month in premiums. Children in families earning up to 250 percent of poverty level would qualify for federally supported state health coverage, up from 200 percent now. Families earning more and lacking insurance could buy into state program. Goal: All children covered by 2005. Also: 25 percent refundable tax credit for premiums for the self-employed; long-term care tax credit. His estimated cost: more than $250-billion over 10 years.

-- Compiled by Ron Brackett with information from McClatchy Newspapers, Knight Ridder, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and the Gore and Bush campaigns.

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