- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

With the Iowa caucuses tonight and the primaries fast approaching, here are our picks for each candidate’s most significant and revealing position on issues that merit serious voter scrutiny.

Fred Thompson on abortion: Mr. Thompson has a mixed record on the issue of abortion. This fall, he won the endorsement of the National Right to Life Committee, a move that befuddled some conservatives who eschewed Mr. Thompson’s past lobbying work for the pro-choice National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association. Some conservatives are also wary of Mr. Thompson’s Senate voting record, which included repeated endorsements of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance restrictions recently opposed by the NRLC’s own Wisconsin chapter because the restrictions interfere with pro-life groups’ ability to engage in public dialogue.

Mr. Thompson says abortion laws should be left up to individual states.

Barack Obama on the war on terror: A staunch opponent of the conflict in Iraq from its inception, Mr. Obama has hammered opponents Hillary Clinton and John Edwards for their 2002 votes to send troops to the region (though he admits he was not in Washington at the time and, therefore, not privy to crucial intelligence briefings that sought to bolster the case for war). He wants the United States to withdraw forces from Iraq as soon as possible, and in May 2007 voted against legislation that would have paid for the Iraq war without a timeline for troop withdrawal. Interestingly, Mr. Obama has not been present for several major Senate votes, including a December vote by a 70-25 margin that approved $70 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan without a timeline for withdrawal.

Mike Huckabee on crime: Mr. Huckabee has come under fire as “soft on crime” for his record of pardons and commutations. During his 10 1/2 years as Arkansas governor, Mr. Huckabee issued 1,033 pardons and commutations to people ranging from low-level drug offenders to murderers and rapists. His commutations of violent offenders have stirred particular controversy. One was that of Wayne Dumond, who was serving a life sentence for the rape of a 17-year-old girl in 1984. In 1996, Mr. Huckabee announced his intention to commute Dumont’s sentence. After a closed-door meeting between Mr. Huckabee and the state parole board, Dumond was released from prison in 1996. The following year in Missouri, he raped and murdered a woman.

Hillary Clinton on foreign policy: The junior senator from New York incessantly cites her experience, especially in foreign policy, and repeatedly refers to the 79 trips abroad she made as first lady. To the dismay of many who served with her in the White House, however, it turns out that Mrs. Clinton never held a security clearance as first lady, the New York Times recently reported. Nor did she receive a copy of the President’s Daily Brief, which details the latest intelligence and national-security threats.

Before casting the most important vote of her Senate career in October 2002 — the vote to authorize the war against Iraq — Mrs. Clinton ignored the pleadings of Sen. Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, who implored her to read the 90-page NIE on Iraq.

Mitt Romney on crime: As Massachusetts governor, Mr. Romney rejected all of the pardon requests he received, citing a reluctance to overturn the legal findings made by juries. But his management of the Massachusetts correctional system and judicial selection polices are now under fire over the case of Daniel Tavares, who pleaded guilty in 1991 to fatally stabbing his mother. Despite multiple attacks on prison guards, threats to kill Mr. Romney and state prosecutors and a local sheriff, Tavares was freed from prison in June — apparently because Mr. Romney’s administration neglected to strip him of “good-time credits.”

Police immediately rearrested Tavares and charged him with assaults on the guards. But Kathe Tuttman, a state judge appointed by Mr. Romney, rejected prosecutors requests to hold Tavares on $50,000 bail and released him on his own recognizance. Tavares moved to rural Pierce County, Wash., where he is charged with breaking into his neighbors’ home and murdering a young couple. Mr. Romney has called for Judge Tuttman’s resignation over the Tavares case. Citing comments from Romney aides at the time of the Tuttman appointment, critics suggest that his administration was fixated on the need for gender diversity on the bench instead of selecting a high-quality judge who would have understood that Tavares was too dangerous to release.

Joe Biden on Iraq: In the wake of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, the Delaware senator, who currently chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emphasizes his foreign policy experience. But on the troop “surge” in Iraq — arguably the most debated foreign policy issue in Congress last year — Mr. Biden has been harshly critical. He has dismissed the very idea that the strategic changes executed last year by Gen. David Petraeus could improve the situation on the ground and substantially decrease the level of violence in Iraq. As suicide bombings and roadside-bomb attacks dropped and Iraqis began returning from exile, Mr. Biden changed the criteria for “success”: Instead of reducing the violence (something Gen. Petraeus has been achieving), Mr. Biden now suggests that Iraq policy is a failure so long as Iraqi political and religious factions fail to achieve a political settlement of their differences — something they have been unable to do for centuries.

John McCain on taxes: In a primary season of much repositioning, the Arizona senator’s switch on taxes has gotten little attention. Starting in 2006 and then accelerating in recent months, Mr. McCain has refashioned himself from President Bush’s chief Republican taxation critic into an unlikely defender of the Bush cuts.

Back in campaign 2000, Mr. McCain was caustically opposed to then-Gov. George W. Bush’s tax positions. In 2001 and 2003, Mr. McCain would become one of only two Republican senators to oppose both Bush tax cuts.

But by February 2006, something changed. Voting to extend the cuts, Mr. McCain said, “The tax cuts are now there and voting to revoke them would have meant a tax increase.” By mid-2007, Mr. McCain was making the supply-side argument himself.

John Edwards on Social Security: The Edwards plan operates partly on a major tax increase: He favors deleting the cap on taxable income, currently at $97,000, for households making more than $200,000 per year. Unlike some of his progressive competitors, however, he has informally stated that he also would like to provide a “buffer zone” for earnings between $97,000 and $200,000 to relieve middle-income families. In other words, the 6.2 percent Social Security tax would be applied to all income for a family making more than $200,000 per year, except for those wages between $97,000 and $200,000.

Additionally, Mr. Edwards strongly opposes privatized retirement accounts and is against raising the retirement age. Instead, he prefers tax credits that would match the amount saved by low-and middle-income families. Those households, regardless of size, earning up to $75,000 per year would be eligible to receive up to $500 in matched savings toward retirement.

Rudy Giuliani on health care: Mr. Giuliani continues to use the bait-and-switch tactic to make his health-care plan far more appealing to middle-class families than it really is. Appearing at a town hall meeting in Hopkinton, N.H., recently, Mr. Giuliani repeated his proposal of a “tax exclusion” of $15,000 to encourage families to purchase health insurance in the private market. That was the bait. After spending $12,000 for an insurance policy, Mr. Giuliani said in his next breath, a family could put the balance of $3,000 in a health-savings account (HSA). That was the switch. Clearly, Mr. Giuliani implied that his $15,000 “tax exclusion” will enable a middle-class family without health insurance to purchase a $12,000 policy and fund a $3,000 HSA. In fact, only a fully refundable $15,000 tax credit would achieve this. But Mr. Giuliani’s “tax exclusion” is a tax deduction, not a credit.

Because a two-parent/two-child family earning $43,600 or less this year will pay no income taxes at all, any income-tax “exclusion” would be useless to them. And the $1,150 in payroll taxes saved by a family earning $43,600 would pay for less than 10 percent of the $12,000 policy. Moreover, eliminating Social Security taxes on $15,000 of income would significantly reduce Social Security benefits in retirement. To take full advantage of the $15,000 “tax exclusion,” the two-parent/two-child family would have to earn at least $66,200, which is thousands of dollars higher than the U.S. median family income. Even then, the family’s cash savings would only be $3,400, or less than 30 percent of the $12,000 health-insurance policy. Mr. Giuliani is being disingenuous.

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