succumbing to peer pressure

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Barack Obama?

I spent yesterday afternoon pouring over their respective websites, voting records, etc. etc. I'm not sure that I'm any closer to a decision, but perhaps organizing it all into a post and discussing with you dear readers will help. Where possible, I tried to only write down details where the two differed.

  • wants to increase federal funding for 'transitional jobs' which help the 'chronically unemployed' gain a foothold in the workforce
  • he also recognizes the critical part that transportation plays in being able to obtain and hold down a job, so he plans to 'double the federal Jobs Access and Reverse Commute program to ensure that additional federal public transportation dollars flow to the highest-need communities and that urban planning initiatives take this aspect of transportation policy into account'
  • wants to double investment in education research and development, so we can identify education methods that work
  • website says he'll "make math and science education a national priority" but no specific details about how he plans to go about doing that
  • wants to create a website with a searchable database of 'lobbying reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filings.'
  • wants to create an independent agency to investigate Congressional ethics violations
  • another public database detailing 'how much federal contractors spend on lobbying, and what contracts they are getting and how well they complete them.'
  • "As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days."
  • would encourage diversity in media ownership
  • Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act - "remove some of the government penalties on married families, crack down on men avoiding child support payments, ensure that support payments go to families instead of state bureaucracies, fund support services for fathers and their families, and support domestic violence prevention efforts. As president, Obama will sign this bill into law and continue to implement innovative measures to strengthen families"
  • Iraq - Obama talks about our moral responsibility here, and plans to "form an international working group to address this crisis. He will provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, and ensure that Iraqis inside their own country can find a safe-haven"
Although Clinton says a lot of similar things about government contracts and ethics and creating a more transparent government, I'm more convinced by Obama's page on ethics, and he has more actions to back-up his words - Obama proposed ethics legislation with Senator Feingold, passed a law with Senator Coburn to create 'Google-like search engine to allow regular people to approximately track federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and loans online,' and in 1998 helped pass the "toughest campaign finance law in Illinois history." Additionally, 'Obama's Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act will shed light on all earmarks by disclosing the name of the legislator who asked for each earmark, along with a written justification, 72 hours before they can be approved by the full Senate.'

In terms of notable votes, Obama did not vote on the official motion to oppose Gonzales, and the Democrats fell 7 votes short of passing that motion. He also voted against funding the Iraq war in 5/07, against the official Democratic position. Other key votes are listed here.

  • says similar things regarding ethics and government transparency - would end 'abuse of no-bid government contracts and [post] all contracts online,' would also publish 'budgets of every government agency'
  • notably in the safeguarding democracy category, Clinton specifically addresses voting machines - although Obama does mention protecting voters, he doesn't specifically mention the technological mechanics of voting. Clinton would require paper trails and make election day a national holiday. She also introduced the Count Every Vote Act in 2005.
  • has a much more comprehensive reproductive health plan, co-sponsored the Prevention First Act, which is "...aimed at reducing unintended pregnancies, preventing abortions and improving women's health," and partnered with Senator Murray to get FDA approval of emergency contraception over the counter
  • Clinton also mentions the bureaucratic waste that often happens to child support payments and plans to ensure that 'every dollar of child support payments directly benefits children'
You can see Clinton's key votes here.

Both, with subtle differences
Both support increasing federal funding for basic research, though Clinton specifies:
  • increase basic research budget 50% over 10 years at the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the Defense Department
  • increase the National Institutes of Health budget 50% over 5 years and double it over 10 years
  • triple the number of National Science Foundation fellowships and increase the size of each award by 33%
Both will reform No Child Left Behind, though Obama specifies:
  • modify assessments so teachers don't spend all their time preparing for tests
  • modify system to support schools that fail to meet criteria rather than punishing them
Both talk about restoring scientific integrity, though Clinton specifies:
  • immediately 'rescind the ban on ethical embryonic stem cell research'
  • 'ban political appointees from unduly interfering with scientific conclusions and publication'
  • strengthen the White House Office of Science and Technology
Voting records
If you click around on those links to key votes, you can also find lists of votes where each disagreed with the official Democratic party position and a list of votes that they missed. Between 9/6/07 and 1/24/08 both Clinton and Obama missed about a hundred votes, on topics such as tax relief, headstart, injured service members, non-competitive earmarks vs. competitive grants for government contracts, women's health/reproductive health/family planning, and civil rights. They both missed virtually the same list of votes. The ones I chose to note are fairly arbitrary, except that they either touch on a topic that one or both candidates specifically mentioned as important to him or her or a topic that's important to me personally. I know during this period they were campaigning, but it still seems reasonable to hold them responsible for doing their jobs.

On 3/29/06 Obama voted against the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act whereas Clinton voted for it. The amended version is available here, and as you can see, much was crossed out, so it's possible (though not clearly specified anywhere that I can find) that Obama voted against something that he supports in theory because he could no longer support the bill with all the changes that had been made.

Lastly, according to GovTrack Clinton has missed 145 out of 2,396 votes (6%) since 1/23/01 and Obama has missed 179 out of 1,088 votes (16%) since 1/6/05. I'm trying to decide what this 'means' to me as a voter. On the one hand, it drives home just how much longer Clinton has been a senator than Obama. On the other, they've missed a similar amount of votes since they started campaigning, it just happens that Obama has been campaigning for the majority of his tenure in the senate.

The Urban Institute ("non-partisan economic and social policy research") lays out why individual mandates are a critical part of universal healthcare:
In this brief we conclude that, absent a single payer system, it is not possible to achieve universal coverage without an individual mandate. The evidence is strong that voluntary measures alone would leave large numbers of people uninsured. Voluntary measures would tend to enroll disproportionate numbers of individuals with higher cost health problems, creating high premiums and instability in the insurance pools in which they are enrolled, unless further significant government subsidization is provided. The government would also have difficulty redirecting current spending on the uninsured to offset some of the cost associated with a new program without universal coverage.

Clinton's healthcare plan includes individual mandates, Obama's does not (and his campaign has been sending out some pretty negative literature about Clinton's mandates). Obama's position is that individual mandates will be too hard to sell to the small-government-conservative crowd. And that is a pretty compelling argument - moving toward universal healthcare is a giant leap, and there are still a ton of American citizens who don't think they have anything to gain by sharing the burden together (and who apparently will just never believe the empirical evidence that they're already sharing that burden by paying for emergency room visits through taxes and insurance premiums). I have to admit that on this detail, I'm just not sure who is right. Detailed comparison of the two plans from the Kaiser Family Foundation available here.

Totally subjective analysis
I guess what it boils down to for me is this. Many (if not most) of the subtle differences between the two will cease to matter as either will have to compromise specific positions to get any actual legislation/policy revision/action accomplished. My general feeling is that the places where Obama's proposals have more specifics there is an indication of real thoughtfulness about a problem (transition jobs, affordable transportation). Although Clinton certainly has more political wonk credibility, I'm not entirely convinced that that will translate to more effective leadership (she also has a lot of negative baggage, that could easily slow down any negotiations with Congress). And I'm just not sure I can get past Clinton's record on Iraq. She seems amenable to change, when pressured, on this topic, but then she goes and votes for additional funding anyway. It seems reasonable to be optimistic that Obama will surround himself with smart people and take good advice in areas where he is lacking in personal experience. Although he doesn't have the comprehensive reproductive healthcare plan that Clinton does, back in Illinois Planned Parenthood gave him a 100% rating "for his support of abortion rights, family planning services and health insurance coverage for female contraceptives." So that makes me feel a bit better. And although we do only have two years of voting record in the Senate to attempt to extrapolate into what sort of president he might be, we have eight years in the Illinois senate, during which he sponsored a total of 823 bills, the summary of which reflects a comforting consistency with the rhetoric he's been using in his campaign. His stated positions and tangible record on ethics and transparency are precisely the antidote we need to the crap that's been festering in DC. I just wish/hope that he'll tone down the anti-Clinton healthcare plan rhetoric. Although I'm still undecided as to who is right when it comes to the sell-ability of mandates to the American public, I am convinced that they are needed to successfully implement universal healthcare, and I'm convinced that Ezra Klein is right that Obama's current stance will be used against him (or Clinton) when the battle actually begins to pass healthcare legislation.

So. Having written that all out and spent two solid days thinking about all this information, here's where I find myself. I want to vote for my first female president, I truly do. And should Clinton receive the nomination, you can bet your ass I'll be out there knocking on doors and making phone calls and anything else I can possibly do. But as for Super Tuesday, I guess I'm an Obama Girl after all.


Blogger Scott Lemieux said...

I guess I'm an Obama Girl after all.

Woo-hoo! Glad to have you on board. ;)

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the Blog. It has provided me more insight. Regarding Senator Obama's plan to make Math and Science a priority, I have found the following specifics within his plan:
- recruiting math and science degree graduates to the teaching profession
- support efforts to help these teachers learn from professionals in the field
- work to ensure that all children have access to a strong science curriculum at all grade levels

1:53 PM  

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