McCaskill, Akin present contrast on many issues

From the moment they were paired up as political opponents, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and her Republican challenger, Rep. Todd Akin, agreed on one thing -- they disagreed on almost everything.

McCaskill and Akin promised a campaign highlighting their differences on the issues.

"I don't know that Missouri voters will ever have more of a contrast," McCaskill told the Associated Press moments after Akin won the Aug. 7 Republican primary. Akin, in a separate AP interview that night, predicted: "The choice is going to be very clear in November."

With the Nov. 6 election now near, Akin and McCaskill plan to embark this week on a final campaign drive across Missouri -- each still emphasizing their vast differences and portraying one another as outside the Missouri mainstream. At stake is a seat that could be pivotal in determining party control of the U.S. Senate.

In general, Akin wants to diminish the federal government while McCaskill believes it can -- and should -- play an important role in people's lives. On what do they disagree? Health care, education, foreign policy, federal spending and abortion, to name a few.

It was a question about abortion that propelled Missouri's U.S. Senate into a bright national spotlight.

During a TV interview that aired Aug. 19, Akin was asked whether abortion should be legal for women who have been raped.

He responded: "From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Public condemnation seemed to mount by the minute as Akin's remark re-circulated over the Internet. Within days, Akin had lost millions of dollars of planned advertising from Republican committees and interest groups. Top national Republicans, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, urged him to quit the race so local party officials could pick a replacement candidate. Akin apologized, appealed to small-dollar donors with an anti-establishment message, and forged ahead with his campaign.

At times, the media attention to Akin's words drowned out the discussion of other issues. But those differences remain. Here's an overview of where the candidates stand on some of the issues that may matter to voters.

THE ECONOMY

In October 2008, under President George W. Bush, Congress passed was has become commonly known as the bank bailout. Officially titled the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, the bill authorized up to $700 billion to shore up banks and other troubled financial institutions. McCaskill voted for it. Akin voted against it.

In February 2009, Congress passed an economic stimulus act that is now estimated to cost $831 billion over 10 years. The wide-ranging bill pumped money into highway construction, Medicaid, education, low-income housing, energy efficiency programs and a variety of other things. McCaskill voted for it. Akin voted against it. McCaskill says the stimulus act helped avert a deeper recession. Akin criticizes it for driving up the federal deficit.

In June 2009, Congress authorized a "cash for clunkers" program to offer incentive for people to trade in their older, less fuel-efficient vehicles. McCaskill voted for it. Akin voted against it.

In August 2011, with a potential national default looming, Congress passed legislation raising the federal debt limit while also cutting spending and creating a bipartisan legislative panel to recommend more deficit-reduction plans. McCaskill voted yes. Akin voted no.

Still pending before Congress is the question of whether to extend Bush-era tax cuts that are to expire at the end of this year. McCaskill wants to continue the tax cuts for families earning up to $250,000 annually, but wants to allow taxes to rise on those earning more. Akin supports extending all the tax cuts.

Among other potential economic issues before Congress, McCaskill supports raising the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Akin does not and has suggested the federal government should not be in the position of determining wages.

HEALTH CARE

The Democratic-controlled Congress voted generally along partisan lines when passing President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in March 2010. The measure requires most Americans to have health insurance by 2014 or face tax penalties, expands eligibility for government-funded Medicaid, offers subsidies for others to get private insurance, creates online marketplaces for people and businesses to shop for insurance, allows adult children to remain on their parents' health insurance plans longer, and prohibits insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. McCaskill voted for it. Akin voted against it and wants to repeal it.

As part of its implementation of the health care law, Obama's administration decided earlier this year that insurers must cover contraception at no additional cost to women, including those employed by religious-affiliated institutions that do not otherwise provide contraception coverage. McCaskill has supported the policy. Akin has opposed it.

Akin opposes abortion except in rare cases where it is necessary to save the life of the woman. McCaskill supports abortion rights. Akin has said he considers emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill, to be a form of abortion. McCaskill supports the availability of emergency contraception.

On Medicare, Akin has supported proposals that would provide subsidies of fixed dollar amounts to future generations of seniors to allow them to purchase insurance policies in the private sector. McCaskill opposes those plans. She equates the vouchers to privatizing Medicare.

EDUCATION

Under a 2010 law, the federal government now issues loans directly to college students, instead of backing loans issued through banks. McCaskill supports that law. She contends it saves money by cutting out the "middle man" in the handling of student loans. Akin opposes that law. He says the federal government should not be in the business of issuing student loans.

During Bush's tenure, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which required all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014 and imposed increasingly tough consequences -- such as busing children to other schools or replacing staff -- for schools not making adequate progress. Akin voted against the law. McCaskill had not yet been elected to the Senate. But in one area of agreement, both Akin and McCaskill say the education law is not working.

Akin has proposed to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the departments of Energy and Commerce. McCaskill supports the continuation of those departments.

IMMIGRATION AND FOREIGN POLICY

In June, Obama announced a policy allowing illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before age 16, and are still younger than 30, to remain in the U.S. if they have no criminal history and graduate from high school or serve in the military. McCaskill supports the policy, saying children should not be punished for the transgressions of their parents. Akin opposes the policy, saying Obama should not have enacted it without authorization from Congress.

After attacks Sept. 11 on the U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt, Akin said the U.S. should suspend foreign aid to both countries until they can take steps to prove they are good allies. McCaskill opposed a suspension of foreign aid to those countries, saying it could have escalated tensions in an already dangerous part of the world.

Akin and McCaskill both say they want to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. But they differ in their assessments of the situation. Akin asserts that Obama's administration has not been forceful enough in foreign policy, saying America's foes are gaining encouragement when they see the U.S. as "weak and vacillating and leading from the rear." McCaskill says military action against Iran must remain on the table, but she says economic and financial sanctions are working and Iran is now isolated.

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