Join Now

In Re: Obama vs. Romney


ByEd Finkel


Ed Finkel is a freelance writer/editor in Evanston, Illinois.

Education, the economy, health care, and more. Law students have much to consider when comparing and contrasting the two major-party candidates for president as they head to the polls in November. And the campaigns for Democrat Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Obama’s GOP opponent, have much to say on those issues in attempting to woo them and other voters.

Higher Education

Higher education is perhaps foremost on law students’ minds as they hit the books and size up their ballot choices for the November 6 election. The Obama campaign points to the president’s record in “doubling” funding for Pell Grants, increasing the number of recipients from 6 million to 9 million, in part by eliminating the private bank “middlemen” in the college-loan program and going to direct federal government lending. On the critical issue of student loans, the president signed a law capping loans at no more than 10 percent of new borrowers’ income, starting in 2014, while remaining student debt will be forgiven after 20 years—and 10 years for those in public service professions like public interest law services, teaching, nursing, and fighting in the armed forces.

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney proposed a four-year tuition-free scholarship program for students who scored among the top 25 percent of their classes. “Post-secondary education cannot become a luxury for the few; instead, all students should have the opportunity to attend a college that best suits their needs,” Romney’s campaign website states. “Whether it is public or private, traditional or online, college must be available and affordable.” His campaign advocates consolidating “duplicative” Department of Education programs, encouraging innovative education models modeled after the most successful programs from across the nation, and bringing the private sector back into the student loan market.

Jobs and the Economy

The economy is a top-tier issue for all voters and particularly for those who look ahead to finishing school in the next few years and going out onto the job market. The Romney campaign points to stubbornly high unemployment, which has remained above 8 percent for nearly the president’s entire term, and calls for a number of initiatives to stimulate growth, which has hovered near 2 percent of GDP in recent quarterly measures.

A Romney administration would seek to boost the economy by cutting corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 25 percent and marginal household tax rates by 20 percent across the board, eliminating the estate (or “death”) tax and the alternative minimum tax, and maintaining current rates on interest, dividends, and capital gains. Romney would negotiate new free trade agreements, including a Trans-Pacific Partnership, while confronting China about a trade relationship that the campaign sees as too “one-way” in benefiting the Chinese. The former Massachusetts governor also would repeal the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a/k/a Dodd-Frank, while amending the Sarbanes-Oxley regulatory legislation from 2002 to exempt mid-sized companies.

In response to the Romney criticisms, the Obama campaign notes the United States had been losing 700,000 jobs per month when the administration took office and has gained jobs for the past 29 months straight, totaling 4.4 million in the private sector. Obama’s campaign points to the administration’s work in cutting taxes and providing emergency state and local funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a/k/a the stimulus package), emergency loans to the auto industry that the campaign says “rescued” the industry, and creating the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection through the Dodd-Frank legislation.

In a second term, the campaign says the president would like to pass legislation extending a tax cut for business investment in plants and equipment, doubling to 18 percent the tax deduction for “domestic advanced manufacturing technologies,” and adding a 20 percent income tax credit for companies’ expenses in moving operations from overseas back to the United States. The Obama campaign says the National Export Initiative is currently on track to meet its goal of doubling the nation’s exports by 2015.

Environment and Energy

The auto industry bailout comes up again in the Obama campaign’s talking points about the environment. They point out that auto manufacturers agreed to improve the fuel economy of passenger autos to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half while saving families approximately $8,200 per vehicle at the pump. More broadly, the administration has put an emphasis on “clean energy,” like solar and wind, as part of an “all-of-the-above strategy” to balance environmental protection and economic growth that also includes “clean coal” and natural gas fracking.

The Romney campaign asserts that the president has “stifled” the domestic energy sector because it’s too “in thrall to the environmentalist lobby and its dogmas.” Romney advocates increased production of domestic energy sources, including oil, natural gas, and nuclear power. His administration would amend the Clear Air Act to exclude carbon dioxide from its purview, support construction of pipelines bringing Canadian oil to the United States, and concentrate funding for alternative energy on basic research.

Health care

Health care has provided what could become the administration’s signature legislative achievement—the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—if the president is re-elected and the law survives. Romney has pledged to repeal the law on “day one.”

The Obama campaign often cites the estimated 34 million additional Americans who will gain coverage under the Affordable Care Act, including 95 percent of Americans under age 65. The law should reduce the deficit by $127 billion from 2012 to 2021, private insurance will be available on state-based exchanges for those who can’t get it through their employers, and insurers will be unable to exclude pre-existing conditions, the campaign says. Perhaps most directly important to law students: young adults are already eligible to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.

The Romney campaign states in bold letters that it would repeal and replace the health-care legislation, which it dubs “Obamacare,” due to concerns about the legislation’s costs, taxes—$500 billion in tax increases, plus a $500 billion cut from Medicare—and the “dense web of regulations” set out therein. The law might cover more people but doesn’t address and will probably worsen the system’s existing problems of high costs and inefficiency, Romney says. Instead, his administration would block-grant Medicaid to the states, cap non-economic damages on medical malpractice lawsuits, and allow interstate consumer purchases of health insurance, among other initiatives.

The Supreme Court

The Affordable Care Act already survived its first major test when the US Supreme Court upheld the law and its individual mandate in a narrow, 5–4 decision. Where the Supreme Court goes from here on health care and other issues will depend partly on the judicial philosophy of new nominees over the next four years, another issue of particular interest to law students.

The two Obama nominees to date, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, have generally fallen on the liberal side of the ledger in closely contested cases like Citizens United and health care. Although Kagan voted with the majority in a 7–2 decision that struck down the requirement that states participate in the Medicaid expansion up to 133 percent of the poverty level under the Affordable Care Act or risk losing all of their Medicaid funding.

The Romney campaign says it will nominate judges in the mold of conservatives like Chief Justice John Roberts—who disappointed conservatives by becoming the fifth vote upholding the Affordable Care Act—as well as Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas. Romney believes that at times during the past century, justices have not seriously analyzed the US Constitution’s text, declining to enforce restrictions on federal power that the framers intended while creating new and unintended constitutional rights out of “penumbras” and “emanations” of the Constitution.

Third-Party Candidates

Aside from Obama and Romney, several third-party candidates are on the ballot for November 6. Among the most prominent are Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, a former six-term Democrat-turned-Republican congressman from Virginia; Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico; and Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party, an internist and environmental health advocate.


A Closer Look at Barack Obama

Age: 51
Job Experience: President of the United States
Background: Academia, law, and politics
Education: BA, political science, Columbia University; JD, Harvard Law School
Spouse: Michelle Obama
Number of Children: 2

Immigration: Wants increased border security; a record number of illegal immigrants have been deported during his term. Wants to ease the path to citizenship for immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

Abortion and Birth Control: Supports abortion rights. Health care law requires that women enrolled in health plans through their workplace have access to free contraceptives (there are some religion-based exceptions and provisions and transition periods for nonprofit organizations like religiously affiliated hospitals and universities).

Guns: Favors resolving gun issues through existing laws. Signed laws allowing concealed weapons in certain previously banned settings.

Gay Rights: Has expressed personal support for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. Administration no longer defends DOMA in court but has not repealed it, which refuses federal recognition of same-sex marriages and affirms this as a matter for the states. Repealed military’s ban on openly gay members.


A Closer Look at Mitt Romney

Age: 65
Job Experience: Former governor of Massachusetts; former CEO, Bain & Co./Bain Capital
Background: Business, politics
Education: BA, Brigham Young University; JD, Harvard Law School; MBA, Harvard Business School
Spouse: Ann Romney
Number of Children: 5

Immigration: Would develop a mandatory immigration-status employment verification system to enable employers to verify immigrants’ eligibility to be hired. Illegal immigrants who apply for legal status should not be given any advantage over those who are following the law and waiting their turn.

Abortion and Birth Control: Opposes abortion except in the case of rape and incest and the health and life of the mother. Believes this is a matter for the courts.

Guns: Favors tougher enforcement of existing gun control laws; opposes additional laws. As Massachusetts governor, signed a ban on assault weapons.

Gay Rights: Says legal recognition of same-sex marriage should be denied via a constitutional amendment, not left to the states. Believes states should decide what rights and benefits to offer under civil unions, and that they should be more limited than those of marriage. Would not restore the ban on openly gay military members.

Vol. 41 No. 2

Student Lawyer Student Lawyer magazine provides guidance on educational, career, and related issues for ABA Law Student Division members and other subscribers. It is published four times a year by the Law Student Division of the American Bar Association. Student Lawyer is available online to members of the ABA Law Student Division and to print subscribers.