Dem, GOP leaders face dilemmas in crafting their 2012 party platforms

Democratic and Republican leaders face a slew of delicate policy questions as they craft their official party platforms this summer.

Democrats must decide how to embrace gay marriage, gun-control measures and an increase in the minimum wage. Republicans face tough decisions on immigration, China currency and climate change.

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While the behind-the-scenes battles on party platforms do not capture the attention of most voters, the policy documents are extremely important to kingmakers and political operatives.

The thorny issues for Democrats and Republicans follow.


DEMOCRATS

Gay marriage. President Obama in May said he personally supports gay marriage in what he has described as his “evolving” position. Gay-rights activists touted the announcement, even though it didn’t include calls for policy changes. The 2008 Democratic platform did not tackle gay marriage, but there will be pressure for the 2012 document to do so. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is chairman of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., has repeatedly called for this year’s platform to endorse gay marriage. Whatever Democrats decide, this issue will likely get a lot of attention, especially in the wake of North Carolina’s ban on gay marriage, which Obama’s campaign has called “divisive and discriminatory.”

Gun control. Obama has long supported the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, but hasn’t called on Congress to act — even when Democrats controlled the House and Senate in 2009 and 2010. The recent shooting massacre in Colorado has not sparked new calls for gun control from Obama, but how he addresses firearms in the 2012 platform will be newsworthy one way or the other. The 2008 platform backed “closing the gun show loophole” and “reinstating the assault weapons ban.” Should Obama step away from this language, gun-control advocates would cry foul. Putting it in the 2012 platform would likely generate criticism from liberals that Obama is only paying lip service to gun control.

Minimum wage. Obama vowed to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, but has not made the matter a top priority in his first term. Union officials are strongly behind new legislation from Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) that would hike the minimum wage to $9.80. Labor officials are still angry that Democrats selected North Carolina, a right-to-work-state, for the 2012 convention, and that could put additional pressure on Obama to include Miller’s language in the platform.


REPUBLICANS

Immigration. The GOP is divided and stuck on immigration, lacking a clear policy on one of the biggest issues facing the country. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) initially planned to unveil a Republican version of the DREAM Act, but later backed off on those plans. Mitt Romney has endorsed an employment-verification system called E-verify, but that legislation has attracted some GOP critics and is not expected to pass the Republican-controlled House this year. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who is playing a lead role in writing the platform, acknowledged last month that immigration is a “challenging issue.” 

Healthcare. The Republican Party is united on repealing Obama’s healthcare law, but has not put forward a detailed plan on replacing it. As a result, the healthcare portion of the platform will attract extra scrutiny.

China currency. Romney claims China has manipulated its currency and has promised to be tougher than Obama on the issue. In 2011, the Senate passed China currency legislation with the help of 16 Republicans. But the bill, which has been called “dangerous” by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), has not moved in the House.

Climate change. When Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) was the GOP nominee four years ago, the platform called for climate change to be addressed “responsibly.” It stated, “The same human economic activity that has brought freedom and opportunity to billions has also increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.” Romney has sent out mixed messages on global warming. In 2011, Romney said “the world is getting warmer” and that "humans contribute to that." His campaign has stressed that Romney has long opposed cap-and-trade efforts.