After more than 20 debates and endless speeches, you would think voters would have a clear grasp of where GOP presidential frontrunners Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney stand on key issues. But, despite the constant campaign-trail chatter and position papers, the two candidates’ views on matters ranging from taxes to immigration to foreign policy are still works in progress. The Fiscal Times sifted through pronouncements and platforms, including Romney’s major economic proposals last week, to come up with this consumer-friendly guide to their positions.
Romney portrays himself as the champion of the middle class. He would cut marginal income tax rates by 20 percent across all six income brackets, dropping the highest income tax rate to 28 percent from 25 percent—a change he says would help unincorporated small businesses boost their receipts, increase wages and increase investment.
Romney would also slash the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, and would help offset the cost of his overall tax plan with spending cuts, closing corporate tax loopholes, and implementing means testing of Social Security and Medicare. He would also slowly shift the U.S. to a territorial system of taxation, whereby foreign earnings are exempt from U.S. taxes.
His sop to the middle class would be to do away with the estate tax, the Alternative Minimum Tax, and taxes on capital gains, interest, and dividends for individuals making less than $200,000 a year, although middle and lower income families have far less in interest and dividends to write off than the rich. However, those who earn above $200,000 would still be subject to the current 15 percent investment income tax. “We are going to cut back on [deductions] so we make sure the top 1 percent keeps paying the current share they’re paying or more,” Romney said.
Under Santorum’s approach, the corporate tax rate would plummet from 35 percent to 17.5 percent, and domestic manufacturers would pay no income tax at all. On the individual side, two income tax brackets of 10 and 28 percent would replace the current system of six brackets, and deductions for home mortgage interest, charitable donations, retirement savings, and health care would remain intact.
However, Santorum would add new incentives to promote marriage and the family, including tripling the personal deduction for children and ridding the tax code of marriage penalties. Like Romney, he would eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax and the estate tax. However, he would lower the capital gains rate for all Americans from 15 percent to 12 percent, instead of doing away with it as Romney proposes, for those making less than $200,000.
While Romney and Santorum both have professed a commitment to lowering the nation’s growing debt, both of their proposed tax and spending policies would add trillions of dollars to the deficit. According to a new report by the nonpartisan Committee for Responsible Federal Budget, Santorum’s policies would increase deficits by $4.5 trillion through 2021, while Romney’s policies would add about $2.6 trillion to the nation’s credit card.
Romney plans to cut $500 billion in spending from the federal budget by 2016 by eliminating or reducing numerous government programs including Obama’s health care reforms, delegating some federal responsibilities to the states, and reducing the federal workforce by 10 percent. Some of those savings would be achieved by cutting $100 million in foreign aid, eliminating the Title X national family planning program, and cutting subsidies to Amtrak.
Starting in 2022, he would let seniors choose between the current Medicare fee-for-service model and receiving a stipend to buy private insurance. He would slowly increase the current Medicare eligibility age of 65 by one month per year to align the program with Americans’ increased life expectancy. He also said he would raise the Social Security eligibility age, but has not provided details.
Santorum wants to cut federal spending by $5 trillion over five years by capping government spending at 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product. He would do that by enacting a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, slashing the non-defense federal workforce by at least 10 percent, repealing the health care reform law, and converting Medicare from a government-run program to a privately operated program, while providing seniors with small subsidies or payments in order to purchase services. He favors shifting responsibility for Medicaid, food stamps, and other means-tested entitlement programs to the states with federal block grants. The former senator also favors increasing the Social Security age, and means-testing benefits to ensure that the wealthiest Americans pay more for health care services.
Romney currently identifies himself as a “pro-life” conservative, but admits that he changed his mind. While campaigning in Massachusetts races for senator and governor, he repeatedly said, “I support a woman’s right to choose.” He does not believe that states should ban contraception, but recently skewered Obama for pushing a rule requiring “religious organizations to violate their conscience,” by forcing health plans, including those covering employees at Catholic institutions, to offer free birth control.
Santorum, a Roman Catholic, is fiercely anti-abortion and authored a federal ban on late term abortions while in the Senate. He personally opposes using birth control, and supports abstinence-only education, but thinks contraceptives should be accessible for those who choose to use them. “He favors a constitutional amendment banning-same sex marriage, rather than leaving the decisions up to the states. “We can’t have 50 marriage laws,” he said.
Afghanistan: Romney and Santorum are both highly critical of President Obama’s handling of the withdrawal of the remainder of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by this fall, and for apologizing for the burning of Qurans last week at the Bagram U.S. military base.
Romney says Obama has made “some enormous errors in the conduct of our mission there,” and that by signaling a timetable for withdrawing troops, the president could potentially undermine the security gains the U.S. military achieved in the past years at a great cost in American lives and treasure. As for Obama’s apology last Thursday in a letter to the Afghan President for the burning of Qurans by NATO troops, Romney says, "For us to be apologizing at a time like this is something which is very difficult for the American people to countenance."
Santorum commends Obama for having committed 33,000 additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan in December 2009 as a counterinsurgency surge to battle the Taliban, and acknowledges, “There has been a lot of progress on that front.” But he, too, criticized the president for announcing a timetable for withdrawal, which he says will enable the enemy to “bide their time.”
As for the burning of the Qurans by coalition forces, Santorum says, "There was nothing deliberately done wrong here," while the retaliatory killing of uniformed Americans was deliberate and outrageous.
Iran and Israel: Romney and Santorum both are ardent backers of Israel and said that, if need be, the U.S. should back Israel in a preemptive strike against Iran to prevent that terrorist regime from developing a nuclear warhead that it could use against Israel.
Romney asserts that the Obama administration’s strategy in promoting an economic boycott against the Iranian regime has done little to discourage or slow the Iranian regime’s push for a nuclear weapon, and states unequivocally that if he is elected, “Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.” He has called for regime change in Iran and supports both “covert and overt” actions, if necessary.
Santorum has repeatedly called for a preemptive bombing strike on Iranian nuclear facilities as part of his plan. He has implied that he would expand the use of covert operations, possibly including targeted killings, against Iranian nuclear scientists: "I will say to any foreign scientist that's going into Iran to help on their [nuclear] program: You will be treated like an enemy combatant, like an Al Qaeda member."
Romney favors increased legal immigration, but takes a hard line against any form of illegal immigration – a stand that has alienated many Hispanics. He supports the deportation of illegal immigrants, puts a premium on securing the border as well as employer verification, and opposes granting amnesty to illegal aliens.
He said he would veto the Dream Act, a proposal that would provide legal status to some undocumented immigrants as long as they came to the U.S. as children, had no criminal record and either attended college or joined the military. Romney later said he would make an exception for those who served in the military. While he opposes amnesty for illegal aliens, Romney adds, "I don't believe in rounding up 11 million people and forcing them at gunpoint from our country."
Santorum’s views on immigration generally fall within the hard-line stance of Romney and the other GOP presidential candidates, although he takes an even tougher stand on one point – whether to allow undocumented immigrants brought to the country as minors an opportunity to obtain legal status if they serve in the military. Santorum opposes any concession for undocumented immigrants. Santorum voted against establishing a Guest Worker Program with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in 2006, and is strongly against in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.