Decision ’08

Candidates John McCain and Barack Obama differ on a lot, including energy and labor.

As fuel prices and tempers run high, presidential candidates U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., continue to trade jabs over energy – among many other things.

Presumptive Republican nominee McCain, 72, has been a member of Congress since 1982, when he was elected to the House of Representatives from Arizona. After two terms in the House, he was elected to the Senate in 1986. Before his entry into politics, the third-generation U.S. Naval Academy graduate spent 22 years in the U.S. Navy, mostly as an aviator; he spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

McCain proposes a temporary suspension of the federal fuel tax on gas and diesel and supports offshore drilling, saying it would reduce American dependence on foreign oil. He proposed a $300 million government prize to anyone who can develop a superior battery to power cars of the future.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama supports offshore drilling only as part of a broader energy policy and dismisses the “summer fuel tax holiday” as a gimmick that won’t solve the energy problem, including high fuel prices. Obama says it would do nothing to affect supply and demand and nothing to prevent oil companies and truck stops from raising their prices to make up the difference.

“Talk to someone who owns a couple of trucks and makes a living with those trucks,” McCain said at a fundraiser in Richmond, Va. “Ask them whether they’d like to have some relief – 18 1/2 cents per gallon for gasoline and 24 1/2 cents for diesel. They say it matters.”

Obama, 47, served eight years in the Illinois Senate before his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004. A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, he held various jobs before and during his time in the state legislature, including 12 years teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School and nine years practicing law at a firm specializing in civil rights.

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Obama proposes a windfall-profits tax on oil companies and a crusade against speculators who contribute to rising fuel prices. He also plans to offer grants and other government financial assistance, including tax incentives for solar, wind, ethanol and other alternative-energy endeavors.

“I’ll make oil companies like Exxon pay a tax on their windfall profits, and we’ll use the money to help families pay for their skyrocketing energy costs and other bills,” Obama said at a campaign stop in Raleigh, N.C.

McCain responds that such a tax would hamper production and raise fuel prices even higher.

Obama sponsored Senate legislation that directly would have affected owner-operators. Introduced in 2007, the Independent Contractor Proper Classification Act (S.2044) would have made it more difficult for businesses to classify workers, such as owner-operators, as independent contractors. It essentially would have put more dispute power into the hands of workers who felt they were being misclassified in an effort to deny them the benefits of employees.

The bill didn’t make it out of committee, but given the increasingly complicated and contentious legal realm of independent-contractor status, many in trucking saw Obama’s bill as furthering federal attempts to redefine employer-employee relationships. For example, a series of National Labor Relations Board rulings determined that FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery contractors are actually employees. Such rulings have been championed by the Teamsters union, which endorsed Obama for president on Feb. 20. While McCain has not spoken publicly in recent years on the issues raised by the independent contractor legislation, many in trucking are confident he would oppose such a measure.

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Issue stances grid
Cross-border trucking and free-trade agreements:
Obama: Opposes, says NAFTA puts special interests before workers’ interests.
McCain: Supports, says free trade benefits the economies of all countries involved, including the United States.

Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:
Obama: Opposes, believes the irreversible damage to wildlife would outweigh limited benefits to the oil market.
McCain: Opposes, voting “no” on the amendment that would have opened up ANWR to drilling.

Opening the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve:
Obama: Doesn’t directly oppose using domestic reserves, but says it isn’t a feasible single energy solution.
McCain: “It wouldn’t really address the problem, but it would be OK with me,” he told the Arizona Daily Star.

Government-funded health care:
Obama: Supports, would reduce premiums for current insurance holders and provide subsidies for those unable to afford health care.
McCain: Opposes, saying instead he would selectively fix inflation problems in the current system.

Privatized Social Security:
Obama: Opposes, says privatizing would put people’s retirement “at the whim of the stock market.”
McCain: Supports. “We are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today, and that’s a disgrace,” McCain told a town-hall meeting in Denver in July.