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Not so similar after all

By Lou Dobbs

President Bush and Sen. John Kerry
Lou Dobbs
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry
America Votes 2004

(CNN) -- The campaigns of President Bush and Sen. John Kerry overlapped Wednesday when both candidates held rallies less than a mile away from each other in Davenport, Iowa.

While that may be a first for the two campaigns on the trail, the two candidates have overlapped on the issues numerous times.

Leading up to what is arguably the most important election since 1980, Bush and Kerry have mostly offered similar policy positions on the most divisive issues of our time.

Both have supported nearly identical plans for winning the war in Iraq. Bush and Kerry also agree on preserving tax breaks for the middle class, demanding greater accountability from our nation's educators, immigration reform and limiting government spending in an effort to cut the deficit in half by the end of this decade.

But several important differences do in fact separate Bush from Kerry, aside from the hot-button cultural issues such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage that are well beyond the powers of the presidency to change.

For me, costly free trade agreements and the outsourcing of American jobs to cheap foreign labor markets are two principal issues at which voters should take a closer look.

Kerry has said that if elected he would review the free trade agreements signed by Bush. But Kerry voted for these agreements and even voted to grant the president fast-track authority in negotiating those pacts. It remains to be seen whether Kerry has really changed his stance on free trade.

Despite his concern about the impact of outsourcing on our economy, Kerry's plan to limit the practice is only a beginning. His proposal calls for changing the tax code to discourage outsourcing, eliminating special tax breaks on foreign profits and granting more tax credits for companies that create new manufacturing jobs in the United States.

Bush still considers outsourcing to be a new way of trading with other countries and a plus for the economy in the long run, as his chief economic adviser Gregory Mankiw declared in February.

Bush also plans to continue pursuing those costly free trade agreements that have resulted in the loss of countless jobs and a wider trade deficit. The administration's decision to not move ahead before the election with the Central American Free Trade Agreement has far more to do with politics than the president's preferences.

On the subject of immigration, Bush and Kerry have both supported pro-immigration proposals. Their specific plans are different, however. There is bad and there is worse.

In January, Bush supported a guest worker program that would "match any willing employer with any willing employee." His massive immigration reform bill never made it to Congress, and the president has not brought it up much in his speeches since.

Kerry takes this issue a step further, supporting a path to citizenship for many of our country's 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens. He has even pledged to send Congress an immigration reform bill within his first 100 days in office.

Surely Kerry has not fully examined the consequences of such an action. At least he has begun talking about security for our borders and our ports.

Health care may be the domestic issue in this election in which the candidates differ most. The president and Kerry have endorsed remarkably different approaches to lowering the surging costs of health care and expanding coverage to the nation's uninsured.

Kerry has embraced a proposal that his campaign says would expand coverage to an additional 27 million of the more than 40 million uninsured Americans by providing tax credits, by shifting large claims to Washington and by expanding such programs as Medicaid.

While that may sound like a no-brainer, Kerry's plan comes with a price tag of at least $650 billion over the next 10 years, which should make it much tougher for him to halve the deficit as he says he would.

Bush's proposal, on the other hand, will cost less than $100 billion over the same period. The president has proposed a more limited plan, one that emphasizes malpractice reform, consumer choice and extra tax credits. The drawback to his plan, of course, is that it would insure at most 5 million uninsured Americans.

The issues that will most affect our standard of living and our quality of life are, in my opinion: foreign policy, free trade, corporate outsourcing, education, health care, border and port security and immigration.

Bush and Kerry will have to be far more forthright and forthcoming on those issues to win my vote.

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