Public policy debate by the candidates: the differences are clear
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The popularity of Ken Bone and his substantive question about energy policy struck a chord with voters: why aren’t the candidates talking about “the issues.”

However, as we enter the home stretch of the election, it is clear that the campaigns have indeed been talking about a narrow set of substantive issues that are likely to form the primary core public policy issues taken up by the next President. Further, the candidates have presented very sharp contrasts in how they approach those issues. This gives voters an opportunity to assess where candidates sit on those issues, and provides some indication of where the candidates may come down on other issues, as well.



Regardless of who wins the Presidency, immigration reform is likely to be high on the next President’s agenda.

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonState cites 38 people for violations in Clinton email review Trump campaign to hold rallies in Mississippi, Kentucky Biden struggles to reverse fall MORE has said that fixing the immigration system is likely to be one of her top priorities. The “conventional wisdom” has been that Republicans will not want to touch immigration if she wins because they may not want to give Clinton an early victory, and because Trump’s harsh rhetoric during the campaign may scare Republicans away from this issue. However, in reality Republicans may look for an issue to distance themselves from Trump, both politically and policy-wise, and immigration reform would provide a strong opportunity. Specifically, embracing an effort to pass immigration reform would give Republicans an opportunity to demonstrate that they never fully embraced Trump in the first place, and to show voters that the two parties really can work together, even after a divisive race like this one.

Trump, on the other hand, has promised to go the other direction and immediately sign Executive Orders on his first day in office to limit immigration and enhance screening of refugees.

While many Republicans may support these moves, Congress, even a Republican Congress, may seek to limit Trump’s authority. First, many Republicans do not approve of the expanded use of Executive authority, even if they agree with the policy, and there may be an effort to rein in some of the more expansive proposals that Trump seeks to implement. Such an effort could force Trump to the negotiating table, making immigration reform a possibility regardless of who wins the White House.

Infrastructure Spending

Both candidates have agreed that increasing infrastructure spending is a priority for them.

Republicans in Congress, however, have expressed skepticism about the policy and the cost. Therefore, while this will be a top priority for either candidate, paying for such a plan will present challenges to making dramatically higher infrastructure spending a reality.

Financial Services Regulation

Both candidates have talked about their plans to “rein in Wall Street” and “end Too Big to Fail,” and have accused the other of being “too cozy” with Wall Street.

If Clinton is elected, she will further tighten regulations on financial institutions. While it is doubtful that new legislation could pass, federal regulators would likely be further empowered to increase their regulatory oversight. Trump, on the other hand, would eliminate the CFPB and generally reduce regulations.

Each candidate moving in the opposite direction gives voters a clear opportunity to assess the different approaches that the candidates would likely take on these types of issues.

Health Care

Health care will be another high priority for both candidates that will be approached in dramatically different ways.

President Clinton would likely pursue ways to expand coverage, and has also talked about seeking a public option. This is an approach that Republicans in Congress likely would oppose, making major legislative changes to ACA unlikely.

Trump, on the other hand, has suggested dismantling ACA, but leaving some parts intact like preexisting conditions coverage. However, without a super-majority in the Senate, many of those changes will likely fail, as well.

However, there are a number of health care provisions that need to be renewed in the next Congress, such as CHIP and FDA User fees, that create an opportunity to use them as a vehicle to make some bipartisan changes to ACA.

Drug Prices

A related health care area where we can expect some Congressional and regulatory activity is in the area of drug prices.

Both Trump and Clinton have taken similar approaches to reining in drug price increases by enabling Medicare to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers. However, this is an approach that Republicans in Congress oppose, making it unlikely regardless of who wins. However, given the high-profile, bipartisan consternation that has developed over major drug price increases, it is likely that Congress will "do something" with regards to this issue, though the “something” has yet to be worked out. 


Analysis of the candidates’ tax plans has demonstrated that they are polar opposites of each other, giving voters a clear contrast in approaches to this important issue. Given that this could be the year for fundamental tax reform, it is likely that the these plans will be influential in shaping the direction of tax reform next Congress.

Substantive policy difference between the candidates abound in how they would approach some of the fundamental issues facing the nation. If substance drives their vote, they can see some real differences between the candidates.

Joseph Rubin is Senior Counsel at Arnall Golden and Gregory (, and is the Co-Chair of the  Government Affairs and Public Policy practice.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.