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A Look at Presidential Debate Topics

President Bush and Sen. John Kerry on the issues at Friday's debate:

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ENVIRONMENT

Bush said he was a "steward of the land" and listed some of his administration's accomplishments, including an agreement to reduce off-road diesel engines by 90 percent, a commitment to grow the wetlands and efforts to reduce air pollution from power plants. Kerry said the Bush administration is one of the worst in modern history for the environment, and sharply criticized Bush for withdrawing from the Kyoto agreement to reduce global warming.

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DEFICIT

Bush took the country from a record surplus to a record deficit, Kerry said, adding that he would cut the deficit in half in four years. Bush said the deficit was due partly to the recession and the nation's involvement in Iraq, and said his plan would cut it in half in five years.

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STEM CELLS

Kerry said he supports "ethically guided" embryonic stem-cell research and believes it could help cure diseases like Parkinson's and diabetes. He criticized Bush's policy, saying the lines of stem cells currently available are not adequate. Bush said he is the first president to ever allow federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, but added that "we've got to be very careful in balancing the ethics and the science."

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TAXES

Bush said he cut taxes to get the country out of a recession, which was one of the shortest in U.S. history, and that many people saw relief in reduced marriage penalties and higher child credits. Kerry slighted Bush's income tax cut for affecting the top 1 percent of earners and said his own plan would help a greater number of people because it cuts taxes for those earning less than $200,000 a year.

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PATRIOT ACT

Bush contested the suggestion the Patriot Act has watered down the rights of U.S. citizens, touting it as a law that has provided law enforcement necessary tools to communicate with each other and fight terrorism. Kerry, who voted for the Patriot Act, said he doesn't like the way Attorney General John Ashcroft has applied it. "People's rights have been abused," he said.

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ABORTION

Kerry said that as a Catholic he respects the belief that life begins at conception but added that he "can't take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn't share that article of faith." Bush said taxpayer money would not be spent on abortion and criticized Kerry for voting against a ban on partial-birth abortion and for being against parental notification laws.

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SUPREME COURT

Bush did not reveal whom he would choose to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, only saying his nominee would be someone who would "strictly interpret the Constitution." He said he would not choose someone who would, for example, say the Pledge of Allegiance should be banned because it has the words "under God." Kerry said he would not look for a conservative or liberal judge but one would interpret the Constitution "according to the law."

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ECONOMY

Kerry again rebuked Bush for being the first president in 72 years to complete a term in office with a net loss in jobs. Kerry's plan to foster growth, he said, includes eliminating loopholes that provide incentives for companies to take jobs overseas. Bush said 1.9 million jobs have been created in the past 13 months and his plan would continue growth by limiting legal liability and allowing small businesses to jointly purchase insurance.

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IRAQ

Bush criticized Kerry for saying that a pre-emptive strike by the United States must pass "a global test." The president said Saddam Hussein was a threat because sanctions against him were not working and he could have given weapons of mass destruction to terrorist enemies. Kerry said he has never changed his mind about Iraq and always believed Hussein was a threat. But he added he would have used force "wisely, not rushed to war without a plan to win the peace."

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Kerry said Bush has ignored diplomacy throughout his entire term, from withdrawing from the Kyoto climate treaty, to his decision to fight the war in Iraq without wide support. America is strongest when it has solid alliances and he would seek out more respect in the world, Kerry said. Bush said even though Europe disagreed with his decisions, such as invading Iraq, it was the right thing to do. The administration will continue to reach out to other countries, he said.

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HEALTH CARE

Bush said frivolous lawsuits have driven up the cost of health care and argued that medical liability reform could save millions. He criticized Kerry's health care plan, calling it "the largest increase in federal government health care ever." Kerry said his plan would allow people between 55 and 64 to buy into Medicare early and take the catastrophic cases out of the system by paying for them out of a federal fund to lower premiums.

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