When voting for a president, remember that a president's power extends far beyond ceremonial bill signings and legislative vetoes. After the election, the president and his closest advisers begin the long, arduous task of placing political appointees in policy-shaping positions throughout the White House and government agencies. Equally important is the president's authority to submit names to Congress to fill Supreme Court vacancies if they arise.
Although Gore and Bush have been reluctant to publicly name possible political appointees, the philosophy of this chosen group will fall closely in line with the new president's interest groups. For Gore, these groups include trial lawyers and organized labor. Bush predominately is supported by organizations representing large and small businesses, as well as groups advocating legal reform.
Regardless of what motivates you to vote on Election Day, it is important that the decision to cast a vote for Gore or Bush be made after carefully evaluating each candidate's background. It is this information that will provide important clues to their leadership abilities and how they view key issues.
Gore was born in Washington, D.C., March 31, 1948. He is the son of Albert Gore Sr., a former U.S. representative and senator, and Pauline Gore, a lawyer. Although most of his formative years were spent in Washington, Gore calls Carthage, Tenn., home. In 1969, Gore graduated with honors and a degree in government from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. After graduation, he served in Vietnam as a journalist. Upon returning to civilian life, Gore attended divinity school in Tennessee while working nights as a newspaper reporter with The Tennessean in Nashville.
In 1970, Gore married Mary Elizabeth "Tipper" Aitcheson, a photojournalist. Following the birth of the first of their four children in 1973, Gore attended Vanderbilt Law School in Nashville and in 1976, at age 28, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he served until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984. In 1988, he unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination for president. He was re-elected to the U.S. Senate in 1990 and, in 1992, was sworn in as vice president under President Clinton.
Bush was born in New Haven, Conn., July 6, 1946, and grew up in Midland, Texas, and Houston. He is the son of former President George Bush and Barbara Bush. Bush received a bachelor's degree in 1968 from Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and master's degree in business administration from Harvard Business School in 1975. In 1977, he married Laura Welch, a teacher, with whom he has 18-year-old twin daughters.
During the course of his career, Bush served as an F-102 pilot for the Texas Air National Guard. In 1975, he entered the oil and gas business in Midland and worked in the energy industry until 1986. After working on his father's unsuccessful presidential re-election campaign in 1988, he assembled a group of partners and purchased the Texas Rangers major-league baseball franchise in 1989. Bush served as managing general partner until he was elected governor of Texas in 1994.
Economy and taxes
With the economy booming and budget surplus ballooning to an estimated $1.9 trillion during the next 10 years, the Republican tax-cut "wish list" keeps growing to include such items as the reduction of the marriage-penalty tax; elimination of the estate, or "death," tax; 100 percent deduction for health insurance costs for self-employed individuals; and reduction in the capital gains tax. This would include a change that will allow business owners, such as roofing contractors, to sell their businesses over several years and spread capital gains on the sale over the same number of years instead of paying the gain in the first year as current law dictates.
Other proposed cuts include reducing corporate and individual tax rates and allowing businesses to write off the purchases of personal computers in the year in which the purchases occur.
This lengthy wish list was passed by Congress as one bill two years ago and was vetoed by President Clinton. Congress' strategy this year has been to pass a series of small, targeted tax bills. So far, this year's incremental strategy is working with lawmakers on both sides. Both the marriage penalty and elimination of the death tax passed the House and Senate with wide margins though a majority of Democrats voted against the marriage-penalty bill. President Clinton vetoed the measures. Republican lawmakers are quick to point out that each would be signed under a Bush administration.
In August, President Clinton called for a legislative swap where he and the Democrats would accept the Republicans' plan to reduce the marriage penalty in return for passage of the Democrats' Medicare prescription drug plan. However, Gore, who states he supports marriage-penalty relief by raising the standard deduction so a married couple would get the same deduction as if each spouse remained single, has given his unequivocal support to Clinton's proposed deal.
But marriage-penalty tax relief has stalled because Republicans have rejected the Clinton-Gore legislative swap. And the president and vice president believe the Republican marriage-penalty relief bill goes far beyond fixing a quirk in the tax code by awarding tax cuts to couples unaffected by the marriage penalty and who may enjoy a marriage bonus that permits them to pay less than they would have as single taxpayers.
While the legislative strategy for the marriage-penalty tax played out, the Republicans have attempted to override the president's veto of the Death Tax Elimination Act (HR 8). The death tax, created in 1916 to finance World War I and stop the consolidation of giant fortunes in a few families, has long been criticized by the business community. When first enacted, the tax took only 10 percent of an estate. In 1941, the top rate rose to 77 percent; in 1977, it was reduced to 70 percent; and in 1981, it was reduced to 50 percent over four years. Subsequent Congresses delayed the 50 percent cut and, in 1993, set the top rate at 55 percent.
Bush's tax plan includes the elimination of the death tax, and he supports the Death Tax Elimination Act, which passed the Senate and House with substantial Democrat support, to phase out the tax over 10 years. President Clinton has vetoed the bill because he believes it would mostly benefit the wealthy and would be too costly.
Gore opposes the Republican plan and has characterized it as a windfall for the rich. Subsequently, he has come up with his own targeted estate tax-reduction plan that would raise the tax exemption to $5 million for each family.
With unemployment at a record low, business owners, including roofing contractors, diligently are searching for workers. As Gore and Bush crisscross the country, they have addressed countless questions from business owners, workers and the unemployed about the future of the U.S. work force. However, their responses to the problems in today's workplace, including the federal government's role, alleviating the worker shortage, and getting more individuals off welfare and back to work, are quite different.
Gore advocates more federal government involvement in the workplace. He supports an increase in the minimum wage, expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act, and tighter control and continuation of affirmative-action programs—all issues Bush opposes.
Gore also supports banning the use of permanent striker replacements and making proposed changes to the Federal Acquisition Regulation that would allow federal agency officials to effectively debar or "blacklist" a contractor from receiving federal contracts for a violation of any federal employment, labor, tax, environmental, antitrust or consumer protection law. This could be done with no consideration for subcontractors and regardless of whether a violation was related to the federal contract involved.
The debate about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) proposed ergonomics standard also is escalating in anticipation of the November election. Democrats and other supporters of the proposed standard, including a coalition of labor unions, trial lawyers, public health officials and women's groups, are anxious for the final standard to come out before President Clinton leaves office.
The standard, which is estimated by the Small Business Administration to cost employers $40 billion to $60 billion a year, is opposed mainly by business groups. They have asked Congress to intervene by including language in the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill to prohibit OSHA from finalizing the standard. Republican lawmakers obliged, and the bill now faces a possible veto by President Clinton.
According to Congressional Quarterly, supporters of the ergonomics standard are saying opponents are counting on Bush to win the White House and are thus trying to stall the standard until he can take office and scrap it.
Generally, Gore advocates more government involvement, and Bush advocates a reduction in government regulations on the private sector. Bush proposes that changes in the tax code and other financial incentives will make it easier for low-income people to use the private sector to meet their needs. As part of his welfare-reform package, Bush would require able-bodied welfare recipients to get jobs, attend school or train for work.
In July, Bush proposed dividing the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) into two agencies: one to address the enforcement components of border protection and interior enforcement and the other to address the service components of naturalization. The latter agency would be required to make a decision on every INS immigration application within six months of submission. The Bush plan also would provide an additional $500 million over five years to fund new personnel and increased employee incentives to promote quality service to all legal immigrants. For businesses, this proposal could provide a stable influx of workers. Gore opposes creating two agencies.
The health-care debate continues to escalate, and both political parties are hesitant to face the voters in November without having made good-faith efforts to address at least a portion of what many regard as a national health-care problem. From the current debate about access to affordable, quality health care, three main topics arise: prescription drug coverage for senior citizens, health maintenance organization (HMO) reform and health insurance coverage for all U.S. citizens.
Although Bush and Gore publicly agree that senior citizens ought to have access to prescription drug benefits, their solutions to attaining this coverage - while keeping costs in check - are vastly different.
Gore's plan would ensure that more than 38 million senior citizens would be able to afford prescription drugs by making the drugs accessible through Medicare coverage. And to bear the fiscal burden that this expanded coverage would have on Medicare, Gore proposes to dedicate $300 billion of the federal budget surplus to extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund, which is a rapidly depleting line item in the federal budget that is used to pay for Medicare.
In contrast, Bush's plan would provide a prescription drug benefit to Medicare recipients by offering them more options and a greater choice of plans available through the private sector. Currently, the House and Senate Republican leaderships are debating what type of prescription drug plan they will send to President Clinton before Congress' scheduled adjournment this month.
The second major health-care debate has focused on enacting a patient's bill of rights, which would establish standardized rules for administering HMO-managed care. Under current law, patients cannot appeal an HMO's decision to deny coverage for medical costs. The Senate and House passed bills that call for establishing an expert appeals board - external to HMOs - to address patient complaints. However, broadening a patient's limited rights to sue a health-care plan, which is not a right under current law, is a major sticking point between Senate and House conferees who are trying to reconcile the two managed-care bills.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled in Pegram vs. Herdrich that patients cannot sue their health-care plans under the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act for offering bonuses to physicians who hold down costs. The justices ruled that a decision in favor of patients would have undermined the fundamental structure of the managed-care system.
They stressed that it is Congress' job to set the guidelines for insurers and patients, not the courts. One of Gore's main campaign promises has been to support the enactment of a patient's bill of rights that would include access to specialists and emergency rooms and the right to sue HMOs.
Bush supports giving patients in federal health-care plans, such as HMOs, protections similar to those already enacted in Texas. This would include allowing patients to appeal denials of care to an external review board and, in some cases, sue HMOs; requiring coverage and payment of emergency services; allowing patients to choose their doctors outside their plans as long as they are willing to incur additional costs; requiring report cards on the performance of HMOs; and prohibiting gag clauses, which discourage doctors from communicating treatment options to patients.
The third - and perhaps most difficult - issue is how to address the growing number of uninsured individuals who fall into the gap between the public sector and private, employer-based coverage. According to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, more than 80 percent of the 44 million uninsured people are working individuals or their dependents.
Gore has called for the creation of a health-care trust fund. The trust fund would expand access to affordable coverage to every child and millions of adults. In addition, Gore's plan would allow those 55 to 65 years of age to buy Medicare coverage, expand coverage to parents whose children are eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and provide tax credits for individuals without employer-based health care.
Bush's plan would provide low-income, working people with a refundable health credit to purchase health insurance. This family health credit would allow individuals and families who do not receive employer-based coverage and are not eligible for public programs, such as Medicaid and CHIP, to receive a health credit of up to $1,000 per individual and $2,000 per family. This would cover up to 90 percent of the costs of a basic policy, including doctors visits, discounted prescriptions and hospitalization. Bush's plan also would give states the flexibility to increase coverage under CHIP and expand and reform medical savings accounts.
The other part of the solution to helping the uninsured, according to Bush, is encouraging the creation of small-business health plans. Association health plans (AHPs) will allow small businesses to band together across state lines to purchase insurance from trade associations, such as chambers of commerce and NRCA. AHPs will enjoy the benefits of economies of scale and larger risk pools, and thus reduce the costs of health insurance for millions of small businesses and their employees. Gore opposes such AHPs.
The Senate and House passed health-care legislation this year; included in the House version was language creating AHPs. Businesspeople hope the language will remain in the bill's final version once a conference is held between the two houses and differences are reconciled.
Casting your vote
The issues discussed merely are a snapshot of the issues pertinent to your daily life and business. And if you want to have a say in the election process, it is important that you exercise your right to vote. President Clinton best summed up the importance of the election in a July speech: "This is a big election. There are big differences - honest differences - between the parties, the candidates for president, the candidates for the Senate and the House of Representatives ... there is a choice to be made, and there are consequences."
Julie Wilkie is a free-lance writer from Arlington, Va.