MEDICARE COSTS: Seniors pay for Medicare in several ways—through premiums, deductibles, co-payments, and out-of-pocket costs for services not covered by the program. Obama has blasted Romney’s proposed Medicare reform for shifting more premium costs to seniors; a new study from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family foundation predicts that more than half of all seniors would have to pay more to stay on their current plan when and if Romney’s proposal goes into effect. But Romney contends that seniors’ premiums will not go up and that his plan will better protect the benefits of future generations. Obama’s health reform law reduced co-payments for preventive services and increased government subsidies for prescription drugs. Because Romney wants to repeal the law, he could be asked whether he would reverse these bonuses.
ROLE OF GOVERNMENT IN HEALTH CARE: Republicans have pilloried Obama’s 2010 health reform law as a federal power grab. And, indeed, the law vastly expands federal regulation of health insurance markets, shifts control to set much of Medicare’s policy to the executive branch, and (almost) standardizes state Medicaid eligibility standards. Obama says his plan simply builds on the existing private health insurance system and closes gaps that were causing people to lose coverage. Romney says a federal approach to health care is an inappropriate use of power and that states can do it better. Expect contrasting visions of the correct role of government in health care.
LIBYA ATTACK: The deadly assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi was a hot topic at last week’s vice presidential debate. Romney, like his running mate Paul Ryan, is likely to accuse the Obama administration of misleading the public by initially saying the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans was a spontaneous outbreak of violence amid protests over an anti-Muslim film, rather than a coordinated act of terrorism. You can expect Obama to fire back by pointing out that House Republicans slashed millions of dollars from his budget request for embassy security. Obama is also likely to insist that the administration’s assessment of the attack evolved days and even weeks after the assault—and how he has pledged to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice.
DEFENSE CUTS: Romney has decried “President Obama’s defense cuts” that could cost tens of thousands of jobs. It's a flawed argument, because both parties agreed to the debt deal last August that would trigger $1.2 trillion in spending cuts—half from defense—if Congress fails to reach agreement on deficit reduction. Romney has also said he would roll back the first tranche of $500 billion in cuts the military has already said it could safely absorb. Obama is likely to insist that Romney’s plans would give the military $2 trillion it does not want or need, and that any deficit reduction must not unduly slash social programs simply to spare the military budget.
IRAN: Iran could come up again this week after the vice presidential debate brought heated sparring over the Obama administration’s efforts to derail Tehran’s nuclear program. Romney will be likely to criticize Obama for failing to stop Tehran’s enrichment program despite sanctions and attempts to negotiate. Obama is likely to insist that he has taken no option off the table when it comes to preventing Iran from getting a bomb and that he has put in place the more comprehensive raft of sanctions to date--and to question whether Romney’s hawkish rhetoric constitutes loose talk of war.
IMMIGRATION: Immigration has had a low profile in the debates so far, raising the probability that the issue will be aired on Tuesday night. Obama has been clear that he’d like to tackle immigration reform in a second term, while Romney has been vaguer. Both may be asked about their policy visions. Already, the Obama administration has launched an executive version of a Dream Act program, allowing some young undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children to avoid deportation. Romney has said that he wouldn’t revoke their visas, but he has generally taken a hard line on immigration policy. Both candidates could be called upon to explain their plans for the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
PIZZA TOPPINGS: There’s a chance that a voter may ask the candidates about their favorite pizza toppings--Pizza Hut has pledged free pizza for life to the audience member who does.