We realize it may seem like a quaint idea in a presidential election dominated by talk of private email servers, boasts about sexual assault and tax dodging and occasional flashes of outright racism, but big issues are also at stake in the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. On the off chance that any voters are trying to make up their minds based on where the candidates stand on the major questions of the day, we offer an analysis of their platforms on a few key issues.
In a nutshell, Ms. Clinton wants to raise taxes on top earners to pay for modest cuts for others and assorted new spending, while Mr. Trump proposes tax cuts of about twice the magnitude of those George W. Bush enacted, tilted heavily toward the rich. Mr. Trump also plans a major cut to the corporate income tax — dropping it from 35 percent to 15 percent — and also applying it to a variety of business entities whose owners pay personal income taxes on their profits. (Like the Trump Organization, for example.) A variety of groups have analyzed the two plans using different models for how they would impact the economy, and while their precise figures differ, the gist is the same. Depending on which estimate you pick, Ms. Clinton's plan is expected to generate between $1.3 trillion and $1.7 trillion in new revenue over a decade while Mr. Trump's costs between $4.4 trillion and $7 trillion over the same period. He claims a massive wave of economic growth will pay for the cuts, but that didn't happen under Ronald Reagan or Mr. Bush, so do we really have to try it a third time?
Ms. Clinton believes that climate change is real and is caused in large part by human activities, like the burning of fossil fuels. Mr. Trump has said on multiple occasions that he believes climate change is a hoax, for example in a 2012 tweet claiming it was invented by China to make United States manufacturing uncompetitive. Mr. Trump would seek to pull the United States out of the Paris agreement that set a goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. He would curtail if not eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency's role in limiting greenhouse gas emissions and would seek to resurrect America's coal industry.
Ms. Clinton would work to implement the Paris agreement, which requires the United States to reduce its emissions to 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels. (We're already halfway there.) She would do so by implementing President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, which uses EPA authority to limit emissions from power plants but which was put on hold by the Supreme Court. Ms. Clinton has not endorsed a carbon tax, though the idea is in the Democratic Party platform. She would cut tax incentives for oil and gas companies and provide them for renewable energy like solar and wind power.
Mr. Trump has said he knows more about how to defeat ISIS than America's generals. He has not provided detailed plans for how he would combat the terrorist organization, saying that to do so would eliminate the element of surprise, though he has said he would "bomb the s---" out of the group's oil production facilities. He has opposed American military involvement in Syria's civil war and has criticized Obama administration efforts to equip and train rebel groups opposing President Bashar Assad. Mr. Trump has supported Russian involvement in the region, however. On the question of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Mr. Trump has suggested that Middle Eastern states should create and fund a "safe zone" inside Syria. He strongly opposes allowing more Syrian refugees into the United States, saying that to do so would allow terrorists to infiltrate the country.
Ms. Clinton has a more hawkish approach to Syria and ISIS than the Obama administration, which concerns us. She has endorsed the creation of a no-fly zone over Syria to help protect humanitarian efforts there, but given Russian involvement in the civil war, we worry that such a policy risks sparking much broader confrontations. Some of her other policies are more comforting, though. Ms. Clinton would step up bombing of ISIS in Iraq and take steps to support Kurdish and Sunni militias in the fight against the group. She has also supported increasing the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the Untied States, subjecting them to the current, rigorous vetting process.
Ms. Clinton would keep the Affordable Care Act and would seek reforms to make it work better, a set of policy proposals she has laid out in great detail. She calls for an increase in subsidies for those buying insurance on exchanges so that premiums take up no more than 8.5 percent of a family's income and for the ability to create public health insurance options in states that want them to help increase competition. She would increase incentives for states to adopt the ACA's expansion of Medicaid, allow individuals aged 55-64 to buy into Medicare and permit Medicare to negotiate for lower prices from drug companies. The list goes on, but the upshot is to preserve the ACA's fixes to some of the greatest abuses of the pre-Obamacare insurance markets — for example, the denial of coverage because of pre-existing conditions or plans that capped benefits or failed to cover some conditions — while addressing the affordability issues of the current system. The only real fault with them is that Republicans in Congress are just as unlikely to adopt any of them under a President Clinton as they have been under President Obama.
Also under the not-going-to-happen category is Mr. Trump's call for an all-out repeal of the ACA. Until Republicans can get 60 votes in the Senate, you can forget about that. Mr. Trump wants to allow insurance companies to sell policies across state lines, a favorite Republican health care idea that has little chance of actually reducing costs, and he wants to transform Medicaid into a block grant program for the states, which would lead to vast disparities in the way the poor are treated depending on where they live. Some of his ideas aren't bad. He wants to allow those who buy individual coverage to deduct the cost from their income taxes — currently, only those who receive coverage through their employers can do that. He wants to encourage the use of health savings accounts, which are a useful tool for some consumers, particularly the young and healthy types who might choose bare-bones, high deductible insurance. And, like Ms. Clinton, he wants to increase price transparency in the health care system, which is badly needed.
Overall, though, he wants to keep the goodies of the ACA — like the prohibition on coverage denials for those with pre-existing conditions — without elements that make them work, like the requirement that individuals buy coverage. He puts his faith in market solutions, but there is a limit to how much the free market can reduce health care costs because the cost-benefit analyses we might employ in other transactions don't apply when our lives are on the line. If your car's engine goes bad, you might shop around to a few mechanics and, if you don't like any of the prices, you might decide it's not worth fixing. Would you do the equivalent if you're having a heart attack?
Mr. Trump is also a big believer in market forces when it comes to K-12 education. He wants the federal and state governments to reorient spending to support school choice programs that would provide low-income families with $12,000 to send their children to any school they like, public or private. We have been strong supporters of the charter school movement in Maryland because of its potential to provide parents with more options. But Mr. Trump's plan would inevitably leave many children behind in schools that were now starved for funding. Mr. Trump has also vowed to get rid of the Common Core standards adopted by most states (including Maryland). That's a mistake. They represent a recognition that we need to be graduating students with higher levels of skills than in the past. The Common Core is designed to do that, and it needs to be given time to work.
Ms. Clinton is committed to improving the public school system, starting with the addition of universal pre-K for 4-year-olds. That's an expensive proposal but one that's crucial if we're serious about reducing achievement gaps. She also wants increased federal investment in repairing, renovating and modernizing schools. We are skeptical of her proposal to make in-state college free for families earning up to $125,000 a year — not just based on its cost but also on the perverse incentives it could create for states to reduce higher education funding.
Unless Senate Republicans drop their intransigence and allow a vote on President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, during a lame duck session, appointing someone to the high court will be at the top of the next president's agenda. At least two other judges could potentially retire during the next president's term, putting the long-term ideological balance of the court in play in this election. The candidates discussed their views on court nominees during their third debate, with Ms. Clinton saying she wants to appoint judges who will "stand up on behalf of women's rights, on behalf of the rights of the LGBT community, that will stand up and say no to Citizens United." Mr. Trump said we need a court that "is going to uphold the Second Amendment, and all amendments, but the Second Amendment, which is under absolute siege." He said he will appoint pro-life justices and those who favor an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, whereas Ms. Clinton has said she will seek nominees who would uphold Roe v. Wade and view the Constitution as a living document that must be interpreted in the context of the times.