Obama vs. Romney: early election positions

May 18, 2012

If the political TV ads are any indication, it’s mudslinging time! That period of the political season where the media’s favorites square off against one another and start wooing voters. Though it’s still early, this season’s contenders are Democrat incumbent President Barak Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

While the choreographed name-calling and precisiontimed campaign hijinks tend to take center stage at this time, the issues are—or should be—the true focus. WLJ took some time to track down and compare the two likely competitors’ positions on key industry-relevant issues in this, the early stage of the election race.

Agricultural concerns

Unfortunately, neither candidate has directly made agricultural concerns or the interests of farmers and ranchers one of their campaign topics. Mentions of the Farm Bill, crop insurance and public land use are few and far between. Romney has dedicated some small portion of his campaign to the issue of agriculture, however, in the form of his Agriculture Advisory Committee.

“Our country’s farmers and ranchers provide the most abundant, safest, and affordable food supply of any country in the world,” said Romney in announcing the committee’s creation. “They provide jobs for millions of Americans and are an integral part of our economy.

Along with these leaders in agriculture, I will work to ensure that our food supply will remain steady, safe, and affordable for our citizens.”

Obama has not made farm issues a priority in this election. During the lead up to the 2008 election, however, he made statements during a Democratic primary debate where he called for the capping of subsidies to “megafarms.”

“Congress subsidizes these big megafarms and hurts family farmers oftentimes in the process. And we’ve got to cap those subsidies so that we don’t have continued concentration of agriculture in the hands of a few large agribusiness interests.”

Obama’s voting records as a senator have been limited with him not voting on many farm-related issues. He did not vote on any of the previous Farm Bills and their amendments, but did vote in favor of Senate Amendment 3810—“Income Limit for Subsidies to Farmers”— in 2007.

In terms of funding, both Obama and Romney have seen campaign donations from the realm of agriculture. Romney has outstripped Obama in this area, receiving $958,396 in donations from the “Agribusiness Sector” by May 1 as compared to Obama’s $646,285.


Taxes have a huge impact on agricultural pursuits and the country besides. It is therefore unsurprising that both presidential candidates have a lot to say on the topic. Also unsurprising is that they are generally split along traditional party lines.

Obama, in his 2011 budget, called for a return to pre-Bush top tax bracket levels which would increase the income tax for the wealthiest Americans from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. Romney, on the other hand, claims on his official campaign website that his goal is to “[m]ake permanent, across-the-board 20 percent cut in marginal rates” for individual’s taxes.

On the issue of the estate tax—often pejoratively called the “death tax”—the two are also split. Romney’s campaign site states that the “elimination of the death tax” is a tax goal. Obama, on the other hand, has repeatedly voted against efforts to repeal or extend the exemption limits of the estate tax as a senator.

Obama similarly has a voting record set against the reduction of capital gains taxes. In November 2005 and again in February 2006, he voted against extending earlier tax limitations which included checks on capital gains taxes. Romney, by comparison, has stated the limitation and reduction of capital gains taxes is an economic goal. His plan is to “[e]liminate taxes for taxpayers with AGI below $200,000 on interest, dividends, and capital gains” while leaving them as-is for taxpayers making more.

On the topic of a balanced budget, each candidate’s party affiliations can be easily felt. Romney reportedly is unwilling to cut military spending or raise taxes in an effort to balance the budget, but would cut spending on Medicaid and Medicare. Obama holds the exact opposite position, unwilling to touch Medicaid and Medicare spending but ready to cut military spending and raise taxes in the name of a balanced budget.

The environment, regulation and energy

Both candidates have a lot to say on the environment, but each one spins it in a different direction. Regarding issues of the environment, Obama’s answers tend to be responses about energy initiatives. Similarly, Romney answers issues regarding the environment to the tune of job-killing regulations.

Obama’s official campaign website has cited his past support of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its powers to regulate things like mercury and greenhouse gasses. Also, according to his “Blueprint for Change,” Obama has an interest in regulating confined animal feeding operations as pollutants, with financial efforts directed towards supporting organic farmers.

The energy-flavored side of Obama’s environmental answer comes in the form of “renewable, clean energy” as a means of protecting natural habitats. Despite the fact his often-touted “all of the above” approach to energy includes traditional carbonbased energy sources, Obama’s voting record shows a clear bent against oil and traditional coal. Extensive spending efforts towards green energy jobs are also highlighted in Obama’s official campaign website.

Romney’s approach to energy and the environment is more conservative in the traditional sense of the word. He favors investments in proven energy sources such as oil and coal, and wants federal financial involvement in the green energy sector to be limited to impartial research on the viability of green energy. Like Obama, however, Romney includes nuclear energy as a likely venue for renewable energy.

When commenting directly on the environment, Romney’s comments quickly become comments against extensive regulation. On his official campaign site, Romney’s goals regarding environmental regulations are to “… eliminate the regulations promulgated in pursuit of the Obama administration’s costly and ineffective anticarbon agenda.” Additionally, he claims he will push Congress to assess environmental regulations on the basis of cost. Other sources indicate he wants to strip EPA of its jurisdiction over carbon dioxide emissions under the CleanAir Act.

Generally, on the topic of government regulation, Romney has claimed goals of requiring congressional approval of all new major agency regulations, allowing longer times for businesses to come into compliance, and reforming the liability system to curtail excessive and abusive litigation.

Trade and immigration

Both candidates have things to say on two of the most ag-important foreign policy issues: trade and immigration. Romney and Obama both agree that opening trade opportunities around the world will benefit U.S. job creation and are actively supportive of engaging those nations “dedicated to fair and open trade.” Romney, however, takes a hard line on trade involvement with China.

“China presents a broad set of problems that cry out urgently for solutions,” says Romney’s official campaign site, of trade with China.

“We need a fresh and fearless approach to that trade relationship. Our first priority must be to put on the table all unilateral actions within our power to ensure that the Chinese adhere to existing agreements.”

Among his desired actions, Romney wants to see China designated as a currency manipulator and go to the World Trade Organization regarding what he calls China’s “trade war” against the U.S.

On the issue of immigration, both Obama and Romney agree that a guest worker program is essential for the U.S. economy. That is where the similarity of their opinions on the topic part ways.

Obama supports extending numerous benefits to illegal immigrants already in the country, including driver’s licenses, participation in Social Security, tuition breaks, and a path to citizenship. Though he has commented in favor of increased boarder protection and patrols, the U.S. Boarder Control group has rated Obama as having a fully open-boarder stance.

Romney opposes most of Obama’s benefit-extension plans for illegal immigrants and focuses most of his immigration comments on boarder control and streamlining the legal immigration process. Insisting on a “tamper-proof employment verification system,” a heavily patrolled physical barrier on the southern boarder, and increasing visas and benefits offered to highly skilled immigrants who go through the legal process are key points enumerated on his campaign site.

The election is still a long way off. Existing predictions of the outcome of November are hugely mixed and depend heavily on the opinion of the voice making them. Because of this, personal investigation of candidates’ positions is always recommended for informed voting.

The positions here-reported came from a number of sources including candidates’ official campaign sites—barackobama.com and mittromney.com, respectively—public statements made by the candidates, and third party sites such as ontheissues.org and opensecrets.org. Voting records are nicely organized and presented in easilydigestible form at votes mart.org. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor