WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney agree on this much: The 2012 election is filled with political differences and voters will face a stark choice in policies.
On issues ranging from the role of government in American society to foreign policy, the Democratic and Republican candidates for president offered vastly different visions for the country in their acceptance speeches. Each set up sharp contrasts with his opponent, setting the terms of debate for the fall.
Where Obama and Romney stand — as drawn from their convention speeches.
Obama: Called for setting goals for manufacturing and energy that would create jobs, but offered few new or specific policies prescriptions. Said U.S. policies should reward companies that open new plants and train new workers. Emphasized that tax cuts for wealthy Americans would not create jobs, saying the country had tried that and it didn't work. Cited investment in renewable energy and said it has created thousands of jobs in America and will continue to create more jobs. Said cutting oil imports and supporting natural gas would deliver hundreds of thousands of jobs. Said he wanted to focus on producing better products and improving exports, which would spur job growth. Said his administration's policies had already created hundreds of thousands of jobs in manufacturing and would continue to do so if those policies were followed.
Romney: Offered a five-point plan that he said would create 12 million jobs during his first term in office. The plan involves making the U.S. energy independent by 2020, increasing job training for citizens, forging new trade agreements with foreign countries, cutting the deficit and reducing taxes on businesses. Also said he would reduce some burdensome regulations and repeal Obama's health care plan, thus helping business. Lambasted Obama's record on job creation, saying the president's policies have slowed job growth, are overly reliant on government spending and have been particularly harmful to small businesses.
Obama: Said he had cut taxes "for those who need it," middle-class families and small businesses. But he said he didn't believe another round of tax cuts for millionaires would create jobs or bring down the deficit. Said he wants to reform the tax code to make it simpler and fairer while asking wealthy households to pay higher taxes on incomes above $250,000, the same rate as when Bill Clinton was president. Referring to efforts to come up with a deficit reduction plan, he said he was open to compromise with Republicans but would refuse to go along with the idea, promoted by Romney and his allies in Congress, that the deficit could be lowered by spending trillions more on new tax breaks for the wealthy. He said he would refuse to ask middle-class families to give up deductions for owning a home or raising children, or ask students to pay more for college, or reduce health care benefits, to pay for another tax cut for millionaires.
Romney: Criticized Obama for his plan to raise taxes on small businesses. Said efforts to scale back the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy would result in small businesses being forced to turn over more of their income to the government. He said taxes that small businesses pay should be reduced rather than raised. He also pledged not to raise taxes on the middle class. Said the Obama administration refuses to agree to an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans.
Obama: Said he would use a combination of spending cuts and tax increases on those making more than $250,000 to reduce the deficit. Said his plan would cut future deficits by $4 trillion. He said he is eager to reach a deficit-cutting agreement based on principles of a bipartisan commission, known as Simpson-Bowles.
Romney: Criticized Obama for excessive spending but did not provide any specifics in his acceptance speech about which programs he would eliminate or cut. Said he would cap spending at 20 percent of the country's gross domestic product and would ask a simple question about every federal program: Is it worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?
ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
Obama: Said government has an important role in addressing the nation's challenges in education, health care and job creation but also stressed a balance between government intervention and American innovation. Talked about the auto bailout as an example of how government policies could protect and boost the American economy. Said Americans understand the country is not about what can be done for them, but by what can be done collectively to help all citizens. Cited examples of government policies helping individuals, including a young girl who now has health insurance with no limits on her coverage.
Romney: Emphasized the role of the private sector in creating jobs and spurring economic growth. Said the greatness of the U.S. was built on the free-enterprise system and that was the best way to create prosperity. Said government regulations must be simplified and reduced and that government programs, particularly Obama's health care overhaul, were hurting small businesses and slowing economic growth. Emphasized what he said was Obama's over reliance on government, that for Obama, government is jobs. Contrasted that with his view that the private sector was the best engine for America's success.
Obama: Said he would never let Medicare be turned into a program in which seniors get a voucher that they in turn use to help buy private health insurance. Said he would reform Medicare but do it by reducing the cost of health care.
Romney: Focused on criticizing Obama's health care overhaul, which takes nearly $700 billion out of the program over the coming decade by lowering payments to certain providers, mainly private insurers and hospitals. Has promised to overhaul those payment cuts.
Obama: Hammered Romney as lacking foreign policy experience. Said Romney's comment about Russia being the country's "No. 1 geopolitical foe" indicated that he's "stuck in a Cold War time warp." Said the uproar Romney caused when he questioned London's security for the 2012 Olympics shows he might not be ready for diplomacy with China. Criticized Romney for not saying how he'll end the war in Afghanistan. Said al-Qaida is being defeated and noted that Osama bin Laden is dead. Criticized Romney as wanting to spend money on military hardware that senior Pentagon officials do not want. Said the U.S. commitment to Israel's security must remain strong and that the world must stay united against Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Romney: Credited Obama with giving SEAL Team Six the order to take out bin Laden, but said America is less secure today because the president has failed to slow Iran's nuclear threat. Said Obama has abandoned key allies Israel and Poland and relaxed sanctions on Cuba. Said the president has been too easy on Russian President Vladimir Putin, promised to deal more sternly with Putin. Said Obama wants to make major cuts in military spending that will eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs and put U.S. security at greater risk. Pledged to "preserve a military that is so strong, no nation would ever dare to test it."
Associated Press writers Richard Lardner, Jim Abrams and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.