THE BIG FOUR ON THE ISSUES
If Vice President Al Gore rises to the presidency, his policies on trade, labor, e-commerce and regulation should reflect those of President Bill Clinton.
This is particularly true of one of the hot-button issues: taxation of Internet sales. Clinton maintains that the federal government should leave it up to states to decide whether to impose the same sales tax on e-tailers as on traditional merchants. Most of the nation’s retailers are pushing for demolition of this cyber-divide, and virtually all governors contend their primary revenue base is endangered by no-tax e-commerce.
When the federal prohibition on such taxes ends in 2001, it is expected states will make their residents pay the same sales tax on cyber-sales as they pay in stores. In Gore, they’ll have an ally.
Gore remains a policy-twin with Clinton on trade and labor issues, as well. The former senator from Tennessee, like Clinton, says that any new or expanded trade agreements should contain provisions protecting labor rights and the environment. Clinton’s insistence on these very provisions led many foreign nations to balk at launching a new round of trade talks at the failed WTO Seattle meeting last December.
Gore also supports granting China WTO membership and ending the annual Congressional review of China’s labor and human rights policies now required to continue “regular” trade relations with that nation.
The big unknown, however, is how vigorously a President Gore would tow the Clinton line of expanding NAFTA throughout the Western Hemisphere, given the vice president’s strong links to the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters Union. Gore fought hard for their endorsement, and the unions staunchly oppose any NAFTA expansion, or permitting China to get the Permanent Normal Trade Relations status it needs to join the WTO.
Gore’s positions on other labor issues dovetail with organized labor. He favors increasing the federal minimum wage by $1 an hour and legislation to ensure that women receive the same pay as men “for equal work.” Business staunchly opposes this “comparable worth” idea, arguing it would be federal workplace intervention at its worst.
Democrat Bill Bradley earned his credentials as a free-trader in the Senate as a member of the Finance Committee and an early advocate for NAFTA.
The former New Jersey Senator was a fierce opponent in the 1980s and early 1990s of attempts to pass legislation to limit apparel and textile import quotas, rallying retailers, in particular, to fight the legislation. He supports China joining the WTO.
However, Bradley’s free-trading bent is peppered with labor considerations, which give retailers and apparel importers some angst. Bradley argues that trade agreements reached by the WTO should take into consideration the impact on workers and the environment. Bradley wants to add more muscle to what he calls the “neglected” NAFTA panels created to deal with labor and environmental disputes.
Bradley also proposes the creation of a federal “earnings insurance” program that would subsidize workers who take lower-paying jobs after being laid off as a result of new trade deals. In a $200 million-a-year plan, the government would reimburse half their lost wages for three years.
In the Senate, Bradley backed legislation requiring 60 days’ notice before a factory shutdown and voted for minimum wage hikes. Bradley supports indexing the federal wage floor to increases in the median American wage.
George W. Bush
Texas Gov. George W. Bush has made his vision for the American economy the focal point of his presidential campaign.
The son of former President George Bush laid it on the line during a late January debate in New Hampshire prior to that state’s GOP primary, asserting that the next president should take advantage of prosperous times to roll back Uncle Sam’s take on all fronts.
Specifically, Bush said that of the projected 10-year, $4 trillion federal budget surplus, $2 trillion should be devoted to shoring up Social Security, $1 trillion to paying down the national debt and a like amount to cutting taxes. He has proposed reducing the top marginal federal income tax rate from 39 percent to 33 percent, and collapsing all the other brackets into two, 10 percent and 25 percent.
Bush has pledged a tax cut of $483 billion over five years through 2005. He also has promised an nonspecific plan to “simplify the tax code” to stimulate economic growth and pledged more federal money for research and development tax credits and job-training programs.
Bush takes a wait-and-see attitude toward permitting states to tax Internet sales. He said the Internet should be “a duty-free zone,” but acknowledged that e-tax exemptions could hurt states that rely heavily on sales tax revenues, especially Texas, which has no state income tax. For now, Bush favors maintaining the ban through 2001.
The governor has said he supports NAFTA and would oppose any effort to make its provisions more protective. He also backs WTO admission for China and Taiwan.
Bush opposes a minimum wage increase and additional federal workplace standards, but his strongest comments on labor focus on the use of the bully pulpit to engender a stronger work ethic among citizens and encourage them to take more responsibility for their own welfare.
The governor eschews making labor and environmental standards a part of international trade or other accords. In fact, his environmental platform is dedicated to encouraging exploration for oil and natural gas, while encouraging development of alternative fuels, such as ethanol, with tax incentives.
Arizona Sen. John McCain has made traditional retailers cringe. A key aspect of McCain’s platform is his call to make the Internet a sales-tax-free zone, which is anathema to brick-and-mortar stores that want e-commerce to also shoulder the burden of collecting local and state sales taxes.
As far as trade, retailers, as well as apparel makers and importers, might find some things to like about McCain, a four-term senator and Vietnam War veteran who’s essentially a free-trader. He supported NAFTA and voted last year for the Senate’s Caribbean-Africa trade legislation restricting import trade breaks to apparel made of U.S. textiles.
However, McCain voted against textile-apparel import quota bills in the 1980s and early 1990s. He also favors giving China PNTR status, which puts him in line with apparel importers and retailers and in opposition to domestic makers.
As far as nudging other countries to open their markets to U.S. goods, McCain sticks to his free-trade roots by opposing tit-for-tat trade sanctions.
On taxes, McCain is a minimalist, voting for various tax-cut packages over the years, including one in 1991 eliminating the luxury tax on such items as jewelry and furs. He advocates a phase-in of a flat-tax rate and takes aim at any special-interest tax breaks, including the nonprofit status of industry associations that lobby Congress.