Party Policies & Factions
Are there significant policy differences between, and within, the main parties?
US Economy, National Debt and Deficit–
In recent years Democrats and Republicans have been sharply divided over the dangers posed by deficit spending, and the best ways to reduce the national deficit and debt. Democrats are generally more comfortable with increasing the deficit, if they believe that doing so is necessary to help the economy. When Obama was first elected in 2008, the country was in the middle of the ‘Great Recession’, still responding to the financial crisis that began in 2007. The Democrats’ main proposal was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009), a stimulus package that invested over $787 billion in infrastructure, education, health, energy and welfare for those badly affected by the recession. The most progressive Democrats actually wanted an even larger stimulus, arguing that while this Keynesian approach would increase the national deficit and debt in the short term, it would also create jobs and ensure more people had money to spend, helping businesses, and the US economy, to recover quicker. This recovery would result in larger tax receipts, lowering the deficit, and eventually the national debt. More moderate Blue Dog Democrats, who represented more conservative districts, were reluctant to invest anymore on a stimulus package, and 11 actually voted against the bill. Democrats argue that their strategy was largely successful, pointing out that, while in 2009 the national deficit stood at 9.8% of GDP, it was down to 2.5% by the 2015 financial year and was 3.2% of GDP in Obama’s final year. On the issue of how best to shrink the deficit, Democrats are generally in favour of doing so by raising taxes, particularly on the rich, in order to continue financing public spending that supports the poor, and cutting defence spending, rather than social welfare programmes and Medicare and Medicaid. During the 2016 Democratic primaries, the two leading Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, advocated policies that would increase the US deficit, but to very different degrees. Sanders, the more progressive candidate, proposed policies that were estimated to add $18 trillion to the deficit over 10 years, while Clinton, the more moderate candidate, had a platform that was estimated to add $745 billion over 10 years. Not a single Republican voted for the 2009 stimulus. While in opposition, the party was extremely critical of Obama’s deficit spending, arguing that the government was mounting up dangerously large debts. In 2012, Representative Paul Ryan warned, “In this generation, a defining responsibility of government is to steer our nation clear of a debt crisis while there is still time”. Republicans have very different views to Democrats on how the deficit should be reduced. Rather than raising taxes, which they believe would discourage enterprise and hard work, they believe the focus should be on cutting the cost of the federal government, with the exception of defense spending. The parties have found it very difficult to bridge this ideological divide. The 2011 Budget Control Act gave a ‘super-committee’ of House and Senate Republicans and Democrats four months to negotiate a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over a ten-year period. As an incentive to compromise, the law also said that if the committee failed to agree a plan by November 2012 a process called ‘sequestration’ would begin –automatic cuts to both domestic spending, favoured by Democrats, and defence spending, favoured by Republicans. However, the ‘super-committee’ failed after Democrats resisted spending cuts and Republicans resisted tax increases. Within the Republican Party, there are differing levels of commitment to deficit reduction. Most dedicated are the party’s most fiscally conservative members, backed by the Tea Party movement –a political movement that emerged in 2009 to oppose the growing size and cost of the federal government. In 2013, Tea Party Republicans pressured congressional leaders to reject all appropriations bills and increases to the debt ceiling(a limit on the amount the US Treasury can borrow) until Democrats accepted sharp spending cuts, including the complete defunding of the ‘Obamacare’ health reforms. This standoff resulted in a government shut down, in which all non-essential services were stopped and more than 800,000 workers were sent home without pay. It also required the Treasury to take extraordinary measures to prevent America defaulting on its debts after the debt ceiling was reached, and the US government could no longer borrow to pay its bills. The standoff ended after more moderate Republicans conceded and supported a continuing resolution that funded the government and suspended the debt ceiling. Since the election of Donald Trump, the party has taken actions that suggest that the deficit is no longer its top priority. Fiscal conservatives like Senator Rand Paul, and members of the House Freedom Caucus, accused their colleagues of hypocrisy, after they slashed business and income taxes with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but then supported the 2018 Bipartisan Budget Act, which lifted the sequester caps on domestic and defence spending to increase spending by over $300 billion. It is now estimated that the US national deficit, which was $587 billion in Obama’s final year, will exceed $1 trillion by 2019. Debate over the size of the Covid Relief bill held up the second bill in December 2020.
The Democrats have long supported reforms to America’s healthcare system. Unlike the UK, America does not have a publicly funded healthcare system that covers all citizens as the NHS does. The most left-wing, progressive Democrats, want to introduce a ‘universal healthcare’ system, which would operate much like the NHS in the UK. However, the more moderate ‘Blue Dog’ Democrats, who mostly represent southern states, have long been critical of such plans. As a result, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (2010) modified, rather than replaced, America’s private healthcare system. Firstly, it bans insurance companies from denying individuals coverage just because they have an expensive pre-existing medical condition. Secondly, it offers subsidies to individuals with incomes between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level. Finally, it requires insurance policies to offer a certain standard of healthcare coverage. Because these requirements increase costs for health insurance companies, the law controversially includes the ‘individual mandate’, which requires all Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty in the form of a tax. The individual mandate is important because the young and healthy often fail to buy health insurance, if they do not need it. However, to ensure that private health insurance companies can afford to cover the sick at lower costs, they need healthier, cheaper customers. The party’s 2016 presidential primary candidates had differing views on the future direction of reforms. Bernie Sanders supported the introduction of universal health care (akin to the NHS), whilst Hillary Clinton argued that this was financially unachievable, and pledged to continue to support the Affordable Care Act, with the aim of making health care affordable for all. While all Republicans have been firmly opposed to what they derisively call ‘Obamacare’, the strongest criticism of the PPACA (2010) has come from Tea Party Republicans, who oppose the growing size, role and cost of the federal government. They see Obama’s health care reforms as symbolic of the many ideological differences between the two parties. Republicans believe in the free market, individual responsibility and personal choice. They believe that the government should not force people to buy health insurance if they decide they do not want to pay for it. Likewise, they oppose the ‘employer mandate’, which requires larger businesses to pay for health insurance coverage for their employees, because they fear that these increased costs will lead to employers cutting jobs. Republicans argue that the free market works best when the government does not interfere, and that Obamacare has resulted in higher prices and longer waiting times. In March 2017, House Republicans announced their long awaited Obamacare replacement –the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The bill retained two of Obamacare’s most popular features (allowing young adults under 26 to stay on their parents ‘health plans, and banning insurance companies from charging more, or denying coverage, to individuals with expensive pre-existing conditions) but it changed most others. Whereas Obamacare gave subsidies to those earning under $48,240 a year, with the size of the subsidy varying based on income, the AHCA proposed tax credits that would be based on age, and would be the same for everyone earning under $75,000. As a result, the bill benefited middle class earners, who previously do not qualify for Obamacare’s subsidies, but greatly reduced support for lower earners, who would receive the same tax credit as someone with a much higher salary. The bill also sought to reverse Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, while cutting the taxes the law levied on higher earners, to help pay for the subsidies. It would repeal a 3.8% tax on investment income, scrap a 0.9% levy on individual income over $200,000, and delay the introduction of a 40% tax on so-called “Cadillac” healthcare plans. The bill would scrap the individual mandate, but allow insurance companies to charge an additional 30% fee when an individual who has not had health insurance for over two months applies for insurance. The bill proved to be so divisive within the party that the House leadership decided against putting it to a vote, fearing that their first major bill would be defeated. Right-wing members of the House Freedom Caucus argued that the bill’s cuts were not deep enough, and that too many of Obamacare’s features, such as its requirement that insurance plans provide a particular standard of coverage, were left in place. Meanwhile, more moderate members argued that the bill went too far, particularly after the Congressional Budget Office estimated that 24 million people could lose their insurance by 2026.While this attempt to repeal Obamacare failed, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which passed without a single Democratic vote, successfully repealed the ‘ individual mandate’, which may have a significant impact on the reforms.
Welfare and Taxation-
Democrats are supportive of progressive taxation, where the wealthier pay a much higher proportion than those who earn less. Democrats are concerned by the growing rate of inequality in America, where the very richest 1% have seen their earnings increase dramatically, while standards of living have been reduced for many working and middle class Americans. They attempted to target this inequality with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (2010), which, in addition to reforming private insurance, expanded Medicaid coverage to include millions more low-income Americans. President Obama also signed multiple Executive Orders to make progress in areas that have stalled in Congress, including an order to raise the minimum wage for all federal contractors, and another to reform federal overtime rules so that more people are entitled to over time pay. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders pledged to increase income tax rates for the wealthiest in America. Clinton’s proposal was much lower than Sanders’, but both represented an increase on levels under Obama, who actually cut taxes for the middle class. Clinton announced an additional 4% surtax on incomes over $5 million, whereas Sanders pledged to raise all income tax bands progressively so that the wealthiest pay more, introducing four new tax brackets at 37% (between $250-$500k pa), 43% (between $500k-£2m), 48% (between $2m-$10m), and 52% (for incomes over $10m only).Republicans argue that tax cuts, including for the wealthy, are essential. They argue that wealthy job creators will not invest, create jobs, and expand the economy, if taxes are too punishing and discourage enterprise. Republicans are particularly keen to see substantial cuts to welfare programmes, arguing that they create a culture of dependency and reduce incentives to work. In the Agriculture Act of 2014, more commonly known as the ‘farm bill’, Republicans cut $8.6 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as “food stamps”, which are given to the very poor to buy food. While this was a substantial cut, it was far less than the $40 billion reduction that Tea Party Republicans wanted. In 2013, Republicans also opposed the extension of the federal unemployment benefits that were first introduced in 2008 as a response to the financial crisis. The benefits provided Americans with up to 47 weeks of federally funded support once they were no longer able to claim unemployment benefits from their state. Republicans are concerned that if payments are simply given out indefinitely, with no cut off point, then there is little incentive for the unemployed to seek work, as they are safe in the knowledge that payments will continue. In 2017, the party passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act without a single Democratic vote. The Act was the fourth largest tax cut since 1940, including a number of permanent tax cuts for businesses, and temporary tax cuts for individuals. For example, it reduces the tax that businesses pay on their profits from 35% to 21%, the largest one-time rate cut in US history. The Act also cut personal income tax rates. The non-partisan Tax Policy Centre (TPC) estimates that the average cut for individuals in 2018 will be $1,600, with the biggest benefit going to households making between $308,000-$733,000. They estimate that middle-income taxpayers (those earning $49,000 -$86,000) will pay about $900 less in 2018 (around 1.6% of their post-tax income), while those earning $733,000 and above will receive an average tax cut of roughly $50,000 (around 3.4% of post-tax income). However, as these individual tax cuts are only temporary, and as the Act changes how taxes are adjusted for inflation, the Tax Policy Centre estimates that by 2027, 53% of Americans will actually pay more in taxes than if no law had passed.
Immigration-Democrats are generally much more supportive of immigration reform. They arguing that the majority of undocumented immigrants are hardworking, law abiding tax payers, who contribute to the economy and society, and be given the chance to earn citizenship. They also argue that it would not only be logistically difficult, but morally wrong to separate families and communities by deporting over 11 million people. After Congress repeatedly failed to pass numerous versions of the DREAM Act, which attempted to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US illegally as children, the Obama Administration decided to take unilateral action. In 2012 it announced a new programme called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals(DACA), which would allow around 800,000 ‘Dreamers ‘to apply for work permits and remain in the country. The policy was an example of prosecutorial discretion, where federal officials choose which crimes to prosecute, and which to leave, due to their limited resources. The programme did not change the law, or the Dreamers ‘legal status, but it gave them the security of knowing that immigration officials had been instructed to target others, mainly criminals ,for deportation. In 2014, the Obama Administration then announced Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, an expanded version of the programme that would have given similar protections to another3.7 million people. While Democrats are generally united in their support for immigration reform, there is not complete agreement over what form it should take, or what the party should be willing to concede to win Republican votes. When Congress debated immigration reform in 2018, progressive Democrats were critical of plans that prevented Dreamers from sponsoring their parents for citizenship, or appropriated billions for a wall along the Mexican border. More moderate Democrats, who tend to represent more conservative southern states, where illegal immigration is a much more controversial issue, are more likely to accept stronger border enforcement, and to focus their efforts on the more sympathetic Dreamers. The Republican Party can also be quite divided over the issue of immigration reform. Many moderate Republicans recognise that the party is performing badly amongst Hispanic voters and that a change in stance would benefit the party electorally. Some more business-minded Republicans also argue that immigration reform would be good for the economy. However, Tea Party Republicans are concerned that providing a path to citizenship would only reward and encourage illegal immigration. In 2012, the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney endorsed a policy of “self-deportation” to deal with illegal immigration, under which life is made so difficult for undocumented immigrants that they would voluntarily choose to leave. Republicans have defeated a number of bi-partisan immigration reform bills.
On June 27th 2013, the Senate voted 68-32 against the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernisation Bill. The bill included plans to allow many of America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to gain legal status, and, eventually, after passing certain requirements, full US citizenship. The bill also increased the number of border patrol agents, to further secure the border. However, wasn’t even considered in the House because the Republican Speaker John Boehner invoked ‘the Hastert Rule’–an unwritten rule that holds that the House will only vote on bills that are supported by a majority of Republicans. Republicans were extremely critical of Obama’s programme, and managed to prevent the DAPA programme from ever being implemented. DAPA was put on hold by a federal court order in 2015, and could not be implemented until a legal challenge by 26 Republican controlled state governments had completed. President Trump then rescinded the DAPA order in June 2017. In September 2017, the Trump Administration also announced that it was ending the DACA programme in March 2018, giving Congress six months to reach an agreement on the issue. Several bi-partisan plans were debated in the Senate, however none received the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. The plans submitted by moderate Republicans vary greatly tothat endorsed by the President. While Republican Senator John McCain sponsored a plan that gave Dreamers a path to citizenship in exchange for some increased border security, Trump has claimed that he will only sign a bill that not only includes $25 billion for the construction of a wall along the Mexican border, but sharp cuts to legal immigration. Trump has also signed executive orders threatening to withdraw federal funds from ‘sanctuary cities’ -jurisdictions where local law enforcement is generally prevented from helping federal immigration authorities to identify and deport undocumented immigrants, unless they have been charged with serious crime. Trump has also used executive orders to implement controversial travel bans, restricting immigration from particular countries. The first, signed in Jan 2017, banned all foreign nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the US, or being issued a visa for 90 days. The order also blocked refugees from these countries for 120 days, and blocked Syrian refugees indefinitely. The ban was soon blocked by federal courts, but was replaced in March and September.
A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in January 2018 found that 79% of Americans believe that Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the U.S. and apply for citizenship, while another 7% believe that Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the US, but not apply for citizenship. Only 11% said that Dreamers should be deported. So, given the overwhelming public support, why was the Senate unable to pass bipartisan proposals that were far more limited than the bill did pass in 2013? This question is partially explained by the growing divide between increasingly influential factions within both parties. The bi-partisan Common-Sense Caucus managed to bridge the ideological gap between the most moderate Democrats and Republicans, but their terms were always unlikely to be approved by the most liberal and conservative wings of each party. Progressive Democrats are unwilling to invest billions in a border wall and are uncomfortable with plans that prevent Dreamers from sponsoring their parents for citizenship. Hard-line Republicans continue to believe that creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants rewards and encourages further illegal immigration, while President Trump has shifted the debate further to the right by insisting on cuts to not just illegal, but legal immigration
Democrats are generally much more in favour of gun control, and have strongly supported reforms that have ultimately been defeated. After the Sandy Hook School shooting in 2012, Democrats proposed a number of reforms, including the introduction of mandatory background checks, limits to the size of magazines, and bans on assault weapons. However, the most significant measures were defeated in Congress, predominantly by Republicans, helped by some Blue Dog Democrats. In 2012, President Obama took 23 executive actions, such as increasing police resources, to address gun crime. Of the 2016 presidential primary candidates, Clinton pledged to close loopholes & enforce comprehensive background checks, even without Congressional approval. In contrast, Bernie Sanders, who represents Vermont, a rural state where around half of all citizens own guns for hunting and target practice, took a more centrist view. He said that gun ownership is a right, but that more should be done to ensure that guns are not used to commit crimes. Democrats are also generally more supportive of same-sex marriage. President Obama was not always vocally supportive of same-sex marriage, but he did become the first sitting president to announce his support in 2012 and explained that his views had been ‘evolving’ over time. More conservative ‘Blue Dog’ Democrats have tended to support civil unions for same-sex couples. Generally, Democrats are much more pro-choice than Republicans, and the Democrat party platform regularly includes commitment to a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, backing the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade. However, Blue Dog Democrats are not quite as supportive. Democratic Representative Bart Stupak, and Republican Representative Joseph R. Pitts, introduced the Stupak-Pitts amendment to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (2010) to prevent the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, or to fund any insurance plan that covers abortions. Ultimately, President Obama agreed to issue an executive order to affirm that no federal funds would be used to pay for abortions, except for cases of incest and rape. The Republican Party is generally united on many social issues. However, more religious Tea Party activists tend to be more socially conservative than many ‘establishment’, Wall Street Republicans. Most Republicans see even minor gun control laws as an unnecessary limit on 2ndAmendment rights. A 2013 bill introducing universal background checks on those purchasing weapons, supported by over 90% of the US population, was defeated in the Senate after some Blue Dog Democrats voted with Republicans. Following a mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018, the House of Representatives passed the STOP School Violence Act 407-10. The reason the bill attracted bipartisan support was that it focussing on making schools safer, by providing funds for training and metal detectors, rather than introducing new controls on gun purchases. Republicans have long been critical of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade(1973), but members take different views on what limits should be placed on abortions. Several Republicans caused controversy in their 2012 election campaigns after they supported bans on abortion under all circumstances, including rape. In contrast, establishment Republicans tend to be less prepared to support such bans. The former House Speaker John Boehner resigned in 2015 after the party’s most socially conservative members refused to pass budget appropriations that included funds for Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organisation that provides health services to women, including abortions. Social conservatives view marriage as an essentially religious institution and Republicans in many state legislatures successfully amended their state constitutions to define marriage as being solely between a man and a woman. Many Republicans were very critical when the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage to be protected by the 14thAmendmentin Obergefell v Hodges (2015). However, with public support for same-sex marriage growing, many establishment Republicans have begun to talk less on the issue, whereas social conservatives continue to support a ‘Marriage Protection Amendment’ to the US Constitution.
One issue with increasing bipartisan support is criminal justice reform. Many Democrats, and libertarian Republicans like Rand Paul, argue that mandatory sentencing laws are often discriminatory and ineffective. Meanwhile, fiscally conservative Republicans have argued that the cost of incarcerating non-violent offenders for lengthy sentences is financially unsustainable. Keeping over 2.3 million people in prison costs the US over $80 billion a year. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which would have retroactively lowered a range of mandatory minimum sentences for drug and gun related crimes, passed with bi-partisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2016. However, it was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who appeared reluctant to put such a divisive issue to a vote on the floor so soon before the 2016 elections. Some Republicans criticised the bill, taking the more traditional party view that lengthy sentences are the main reason for the reduction in violent crime since the 90s.
Generally, the Democrats can be more dovish, and more sceptical of taking military action abroad. Many Democrats would rather use alternative methods, such as economic sanctions and diplomacy, to achieve foreign policy goals. Shortly after being elected, Obama said that he wanted to “renew American diplomacy”, drawing a contrast with President Bush’s controversial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2009, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for creating a “new climate” in international relations that stressed cooperation and diplomacy. In 2010, Obama signed the New START treaty with Russia, reducing each nation’s number of strategic nuclear missile launchers. In 2014, Obama recognised the Cuban government for the first time since 1961, and became the first President to visit Cuba for 80 years in 2016. From 2012-15, the Obama administration, alongside negotiators from the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany, negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, in which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The deal began to take effect in 2016, after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a global nuclear watchdog, certified that Iran had met all of its commitments. Some liberal critics have argued that Obama was actually more hawkish than he often appeared. He approved military action in Libya in 2011, and made significant use of drones to target and kill hundreds of terror suspects, along with many innocent bystanders, in the Middle East. The former President also appeared willing to take military action in Syria in 2013, only to stop after it became apparent that support was low amongst the public and Democrats in Congress. His planned £11billion investment in ‘destroying ISIL’, recommended in his2017 budget proposal,is also evidence of his commitment to “address security threats wherever they arise and continue to demonstrate American leadership around the world. “As a former Secretary of State under President Obama, Clinton was generally supportive of the President’s military intervention overseas. In contrast, Sanders opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and repeatedly argued that the US should not lead the fight against Islamic State. Republicans argue that defence spending is vital, and that a strong military presence around the world is essential to uphold order. The reason why many Republicans were willing to vote for the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which increased domestic spending and the national deficit, was that it lifted the sequester caps on defence spending by $80 billion in the 2018 fiscal year and $85 billion in the 2019 fiscal year. The party was much more supportive of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and considers it important that an American presence is sustained in the Middle East. Republicans argue that President Obama’s preference for diplomacy has shown a weakness to America’s enemies, and encouraged them to take aggressive action. They were especially critical when the President did not take military action in Syria in 2012, even though it was alleged that the Syrian government had crossed the President’s “red line”, by using banned chemical weapons. In 2017, it was again reported that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons, and many Republicans, like Senator John McCain were pleased to learn that President Trump responded by approving a strike on a Syrian airbase. Like some Democrats, Republicans are generally strongly supportive of Israel, and support firm military action against nations that threaten Israel’s security. Many Republicans were very critical of the White House’s negotiations with Iran, and wanted to see continued strong economic sanctions against the country. In 2015, former House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give a speech to Congress about the dangers of President Obama’s negotiations with Iran. In September 2015, the Republican Party tried to block Obama’s Iran deal by introducing a Joint Resolution of Disapproval, but Senate Democrats filibustered the vote in the Senate. Some divides have emerged between President Trump and more establishment Republicans. Senator John McCain has been very critical of Trump’s promise to introduce interrogation techniques that are “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding”, and of his regular criticism of NATO. Republicans are usually strongly supportive of America’s military alliances, but Trump has argued that America spends too much, and other members do not pay their ‘fair share’. While the issue of defence unites most Republicans, it is important to note that the party’s more libertarian members can have strikingly different views. One example is the libertarian Senator Rand Paul, who strongly criticised the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and has questioned the idea that the US’s foreign policy is "killing more terrorists than it creates. “Paul has repeatedly questioned his party’s commitment to increased defence spending, and criticised his colleagues for supporting the 2017 Bipartisan Budget Act, which raised the sequester caps on defence spending, even though this would increase the deficit. Paul complained, “The right cries out, 'Our military is hollowed out!' Even though military spending more than doubled since 2001.” Military spending steadily increased after President Trump took office in January 2017.
Democrats are generally much more concerned by global warming than the Republican Party, supporting stronger regulations on carbon emissions, and a move to more green energy sources. In February 2015, President Obama vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act, which approved the construction of a new 1,179-mile long pipeline that would carry around 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day from Canada to Texas. A majority of Democrats expressed concerns over the pipeline’s potential environmental impact. They were concerned about potential spills from the pipeline, and the impact that the oil could have on greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. However, Blue Dog Democrats, who tend to represent southern states, with sizable coal and oil industries, supported the pipeline, arguing that the economic benefits outweigh environmental concerns. In 2009, Blue Dogs also voted with Republicans to defeat the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which would have introduced a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, where the government sets a limit on carbon emissions, and then sells permits to businesses. Businesses can then sell on any unused allowance, creating a new market for emissions and a financial incentive to reduce them. The Obama administration also introduced higher standards for fuel efficiency in cars and new regulations requiring appliances, like air conditioners, to be more energy efficient. In 2015, Obama announced the Clean Power Plan (CPP),a series of regulations issued by the EPA that would have introduced the first national standards for carbon pollution from power plants. The rules would have required states to produce and submit their own plan outlining how they would begin to lower their emissions starting in 2022.That same year, the Obama Administration also adopted the Paris Agreement -an international climate change deal in which almost 200 nations agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The Republican Party is much more sceptical about global warming. On 26th February 2015, the Republican Senator James Inhofe, carried a snowball into the Senate to support his argument that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”. The party does not consider it reasonable to make an expensive shift to cleaner energy sources, when America still has cheaper supplies of coal and oil available. For Republicans, the main priority is economic growth and job creation, arguing that taxes and regulations on the coal and oil industry cost jobs and raise energy prices, hurting the economy. The party argued that the construction and maintenance of the Keystone XL pipeline would have created jobs while lowering oil prices. Twenty-nine states, mostly Republican led, swiftly took legal action against the Clean Power Plan, arguing that the regulations far exceed the EPA’s authority, and undermine the 10thAmendment, by compelling states to make sweeping, possibly damaging, changes to their energy sectors. In October 2017, the Trump Administration announced that it would begin the process of repealing the CPP. President Trump has also issued executive orders to approve the Keystone Pipeline, and instruct the EPA to begin rolling back Obama’s Clean Power Plan, in an effort to revive the coal industry. In June 2017, Trump also announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris Agreement agreed to by the Obama Administration. Trump has also had a significant impact on the work of the EPA. Firstly, he appointed Scott Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma who has sued the EPA 14 times for taking actions beyond its legal powers, as the new head of the agency. Pruitt has moved to undo, delay or block environmental regulations at a faster rate than at any time in the Agency’s history. In May 2017, the White House's 2018 budget proposal included plans to cut EPA funding from $8.2 billion to $5.7 billion. This 31% reduction was the largest proposed cut to any federal agency.
The Democratic Party tends to be quite divided on the issue of free trade. The ‘New Democrats’ of the 90s were far more supportive of free trade than the party had been in the past, arguing that lower tariffs on imports would result in lower prices for consumers, increased exports, and a strong US economy. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, a free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. However, over 150 Democrats in the House voted against the bill. Many of the party’s supporters, particularly the trade unions, feared that such free trade deals would lead businesses to close factories based in America and move them to Mexico, where wage costs would be lower. President Obama similarly failed to convince Democrats in Congress over the issue of free trade. When the President asked Congress to grant him fast track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP), a 12-nation free trade agreement, only 28 House Democrats voted in support. Whilst serving as Secretary of State, Clinton supported the TPP. However, she dropped her support during the election, arguing that the final deal did not do enough to protect jobs and wages. Sanders has long been opposed to free trade deals like NAFTA and TPP, arguing that they drive down wages and cause jobs to be moved to low-wage countries. As supporters of the free market, Republicans tend to be more supportive of free trade agreements, arguing that they create jobs by encouraging exports, and improve standards as cheaper goods are imported for sale in America. However, many Republicans were none the less reluctant to give President Obama power to negotiate new trade deals. President Trump stands out greatly from his party in his criticism of existing trade deals. He has argued that deals like NAFTA “defraud “the American people, as they encourage manufacturers to move their factories outside the US, where labour costs are lower, and then sell these goods back to Americans. The benefit of cheaper imports can be offset by wage cuts, as US workers compete with those in poorer countries. Trump has called for fair, not just free, trade, and has suggested the imposition of high import taxes for companies importing goods for sale in the US. He has referred to the “onshoring or repatriation” of jobs from China and Mexico, rather than the current system of outsourcing to these countries, claiming it “is a way for us to take back the jobs China is stealing.” In his first week in office, Trump signed an executive order to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Congress was yet to approve. He has also announced an intention to renegotiate the terms of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement. In March 2018, Trump drew criticism from free market Republicans when he signed an executive order instructing the US Department of Commerce to impose tariffs of 25% on steel imports and 10% on aluminium imports, to protect US industries from foreign competition. The day before, 107 House Republicans signed a letter to Trump urging him to reconsider the policy, arguing that tariffs “are taxes that make US businesses less competitive, and US consumers poorer. “Many fear that foreign nations will impose their own tariffs in retaliation, sparking a trade war.''