Every four years, we use this space as an opportunity to offer a brief summary of how the Presidential candidates stand on issues of interest to the nonwovens industry so that our readers can have some additional information when they go to the polls in November. This year we think it is especially important to offer these brief summaries considering that, until very recently, it seemed like almost all media coverage of the 2008 presidential race centered on the protracted and often contentious battle for the Democratic nomination.
But, when Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) announced in June that she was stepping aside, attention finally zeroed in on the two candidates set to duke it out in the November general election: Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Barack Obama (D-IL). Nevertheless, a good percentage of the coverage since then has focused on broad-brush portraits of McCain as a decorated Vietnam War veteran with a reputation as a Washington maverick and Obama as a junior senator from Illinois being touted as an agent of change.
What has generally been missing in mainstream media coverage, however, are specifics regarding how the candidates stand on some of the issues that matter most to the nonwovens industry such: the soaring price of petroleum, energy policy and international trade issues. As such, this article will focus on each candidate's stances on these issues, with the understanding that—as a non-partisan, not-for-profit trade organization—INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, is precluded from endorsing any political candidate under any circumstance.
John McCain's economic agenda includes near and long-term proposals addressing both micro and macro economic concerns. For example, McCain has suggested several measures intended to provide "immediate help for American families," including a summer gas tax holiday, a moratorium on filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (which he says will reduce demand and thus prices) and a variety of measures addressing the housing crisis. He has also promised to keep taxes low, new tax cuts for the middle class, repeal of the alternative minimum tax (AMT) and permanent reform of the estate tax.
For business, McCain's "pro-growth, pro-innovation" agenda promises to allow corporations to immediately deduct the cost of equipment investment and to reduce the federal corporate tax rate from 25% to 35%. McCain says he will also issue a permanent tax credit equal to 10% of wages spent on research and development, eliminating "the uncertainty now hanging over businesses as they make R&D investment decisions."
With recent polls showing that a majority of Americans think trade is bad for the economy, McCain—who has consistently voted in favor of free trade—finds himself walking a bit of a political tightrope. Nevertheless, he has refused to back away from his support for free trade, and has made it a point to insist the U.S. economy will improve if we continue to engage in multilateral, regional and bilateral efforts to reduce barriers to trade and level the global playing field.
Senator Obama's economic plan also targets strengthening the middle class and promises, among other things, tax credits for working families, simplification of tax filing requirements, and the elimination of income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000. The Illinois senator says he intends to jumpstart the economy with measures designed to encourage innovation and the creation of small businesses. Like McCain, Obama says he will work to make the R&D tax credit permanent and that he will eliminate capital gains taxes on start-up and small businesses.
Domestic manufacturing will also be a focus of his administration, says Obama, who in 2007 introduced a bill to provide tax credits to firms that maintain or grow their presence in the U.S. He says he will also capitalize on the growing green movement by investing $150 billion in the development of alternative fuel technologies and expanding federal workforce training programs to incorporate green technologies.
With regard to trade issues, Obama says he will make significant adjustments to U.S. trade policy, and promises to amend the U.S.-North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and oppose the already completed but still pending Congressional approval of a U.S. trade deal with South Korea. Obama has also pledged to incorporate stronger labor and environmental provisions in future U.S. trade pacts and to pressure the World Trade Organization for better enforcement against illegal subsidies and nontariff barriers that harm U.S. exports.
Sen. Obama supports passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800, S. 1041), which would allow employees to form unions by signing cards authorizing union representation, establish stronger penalties for employee rights violations when workers are trying to organize during first-contract negotiations and provide mediation and arbitration for first-contract disputes. Obama has also said he will increase the minimum wage, indexing it to inflation and work to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers.
No economic agenda is complete these days without a well-defined plan to address the nation's growing energy concerns. Interestingly, while there are certainly things to distinguish the candidates' energy plans, both place a heavy emphasis on developing alternative fuel technologies to reduce dependence on foreign oil.
For his part, Sen. McCain says he will lift restrictions on outer continental shelf drilling and expand domestic oil and natural gas exploration to address the near-term energy crunch, and explore alternative fuel sources like clean coal technologies, and dramatically increase U.S. nuclear power capabilities for the longer term. McCain also says he will provide incentives for the adoption of alternate fuels by offering generous tax credits directed toward greater use of wind, hydro and solar power, as well as purchases of low or zero carbon emission vehicles. He notes he will continue his support for existing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and see to it that penalties for violating these standards are significant enough to guarantee the production of more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Sen. Obama has promised to double funding for clean energy projects including those that use biomass, solar and wind resources and increase federal resources for developing low-carbon coal technologies, cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels. In addition, Obama says he will double fuel economy standards within 18 years by offering auto manufacturers tax credits and loan guarantees for fuel-efficient vehicles, and will establish a goal of making all new buildings carbon neutral, or produce zero emissions, by 2030.
In these summaries we truly intend to offer an objective glance at both of the candidate's stances and stated positions on issues of interest to the nonwovens industry. At best, however, this overview provides just a hint of what can be expected from either of the candidates should he be elected. We urge all readers, therefore, to educate themselves more fully on the totality of both candidate's positions and, above all, to get out and vote this November.
Regardless of who is elected, INDA government affairs staff looks forward to working with the next Administration to ensure that our industry interests are articulated and considered over the next four years and beyond.