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Grover Norquist, president, Americans for Tax Reform
The Boehner rule: no increase in the debt ceiling withou...
Grover Norquist, president, Americans for Tax Reform
The Boehner rule: no increase in the debt ceiling without a dollar-for-dollar spending cut. If that is kept for a decade, you really bend down the cost curve.
Joe Mathews, journalist and author; senior fellow at the New America Foundation
The most important policy innovation this year came not in the U.S. but in Europe.
The 27 countries of the European Union finished designing the first transnational instrument of direct democracy in the world. It’s called the European Citizens’ Initiative. And it gives the people of the 27 member states of the EU the opportunity to introduce legislation directly to the European Commission — the most powerful body in the EU structure — simply by gathering signatures on petitions.
The proponents of the legislation must collect a total of 1 million valid signatures across at least seven EU countries. This is a novel tool of transnational democracy, allowing Europeans to come together and advocate as Europeans — and not merely as citizens of their own country — for legislation. The initiative process also could provide a counterweight for a distant, bureaucratic European government that makes policy transnationally, without facing any kind of transnational democratic accountability.
And this is an idea that could spread. Once the European Commission starts turning down this legislation, it won’t be long before Europeans begin demanding the right to vote on legislation directly — which would give them transnational elections and ballot initiatives. In a world where multinational corporations and government bodies hold so much power, multinational democratic structures and institutions must be built, as well. Europe has made a beginning.
Jessica Glenn Hallstrom, senior communications adviser, Brookings Institution
The drawing of electoral districts is among the least transparent processes in democratic governance — and redistricting authorities often block public participation to maintain their influence. The resulting districts tend to embody the goals of politicians and not the interests of individuals and communities.
In January 2011, two Brookings nonresident senior fellows, Michael McDonald and Micah Altman, unveiled their Public Mapping Project — and introduced new open-source redistricting software that allows citizens to draw the boundaries of their communities and generate new redistricting plans via their Web browsers. This technological innovation will make it possible for the public to submit plans to redistricting authorities and to disseminate them widely. According to Brookings Senior Fellow Thomas Mann, this software will dramatically increase needed public participation and transparency in the redistricting process and “empower citizens and groups of citizens to provide a little competition for formal redistricting authorities.”
Tevi Troy, senior fellow, Hudson Institute; former deputy secretary, Health and Human Services
Despite its failure, the supercommittee is the most important policy innovation of the year. This is not because it worked — it obviously did not — or that the idea is so groundbreaking, or even because a trillion dollars or so in savings will solve our looming budget crisis. The innovation is in the fact that the creation of the supercommittee indicates a recognition of both the enormous scale of our debt problem and the understanding that we will require extra-normal means to force difficult solutions through our stalled political process. The supercommittee is dead. Bring on the super-duper committee.
Jonathan Cowan, president and co-founder, Third Way
Most ideas that emerged in 2011 brewed on bookshelves and in think tanks and policy shops around town for years. Policy ideas are like a fine wine — as the folks at E.&J. Gallo Winery tell us, “Sell no wine before its time.” Here are the ideas whose time came in 2011:
• Reforming of federal pensions: Washington has finally come around to realizing we need to change the financing of federal pensions by increasing the contribution of employees into the Federal Employees Retirement System. My colleagues Jim Kessler and Dave Kendall developed the idea in 2010, and it went nowhere. Then, it caught fire in 2011. Reforming FERS was on every policy playlist in town, including Bowles-Simpson, the president’s plan unveiled in April 2011, Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget and Sen. Tom Coburn’s “Back in Black” plan. Reforming FERS would save $250 billion over 20 years. In a nutshell, based on a quirk in the 1986 law establishing FERS, employees contribute only $1 for every $14 the employer contributes. The only private companies with that kind of pension formula were the automakers — and we know what happened to them. That math can’t work. It ought to be a one-to-one contribution.
• A taxpayer receipt: The single-largest cost in almost every family’s budget is the money they send to Uncle Sam; in 2011, conversations began on the Hill and around town about showing taxpayers where their money goes.
• A national clean-energy standard: It’s time to rethink the path to a clean-energy future in favor of one that allows Arizona to excel in solar and Alabama to go big in nuclear. A clean-energy standard, as the president proposed in his State of the Union, emerged in 2011, but its realization is still an election away. A CES would set benchmarks for clean fuel and allow for flexible targets between states. The goal is to get every state to produce cleaner energy, though not all at the same pace — California is not West Virginia. In Third Way’s CES plan, we include nuclear as clean fuel and allow natural gas to count as cleaner fuel to reach goals.
• Marriage for gay and lesbian couples: We’ve come a long way since 1996, when the Defense of Marriage Act was passed. Marriage for gay couples is not our idea, but a crucial change in how it is messaged and discussed could help it become law in many more states. Based on three years of research, Third Way’s Social Policy & Politics team has urged supporters to change the frame from “rights and benefits” to “commitment.” The challenge is to convince the ideological middle that gay couples want to marry for the same reasons as straight couples — to make a lifetime commitment that will stick through thick and thin. Leading Republicans and Democrats have recently signed on to our Commitment Campaign, including Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman and others.
• State of the Union seating: We began the year asking Congress to sit together during the State of the Union instead of in their partisan encampments. Maybe it didn’t change the world, but it changed congressional history.
Hastings Wyman, former editor, Southern Political Report
Policy initiatives from the right proliferate. Fairly or not, when we hear the term “policy initiative,” we often associate it with reform and, hence, classify it as coming from the liberal side of the political spectrum. In the past few years, however, a wide range of proposals designed to enact the agenda of social conservatives have been successfully making their way through state legislatures, mostly those dominated by Republicans, in the South and elsewhere. In some cases, these measures have already had a significant effect.
The recent action of the Obama administration in suing the state of South Carolina to block implementation of its new law requiring that police check the immigration status of everyone they detain highlights one of these areas. Similar laws, focusing on denial of government services or easier detection of illegal immigrants, have been enacted in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, which border Mexico, but also elsewhere. In Alabama, a law requiring teachers to inquire about the immigration status of students resulted in substantial withdrawals from schools; it has been temporarily barred by a judicial order. In Virginia, Loudoun and Prince William counties enacted strict laws barring illegal immigrants from receiving many government services; the laws also require local police to arrest illegal immigrants discovered in routine traffic stops. In Georgia, laws to combat illegal immigration caused a shortage of agricultural laborers, inspiring Republican Gov. Nathan Deal to propose putting those on criminal probation to work picking fruits and vegetables.
These socially conservative policy initiatives at the state and local level could have legs. If the GOP wins the White House next year, keeps control of the House and gets a majority in the Senate, similar measures could be enacted at the federal level.
David Marin, principal, Podesta Group
The Obama administration’s Cloud First policy has the potential to help agencies provide more reliable and innovative services despite resource constraints. If implemented smartly, Cloud First can allow the government to pay only for the IT resources it consumes.
But more than a few concerns have been raised about the government’s embrace of the cloud, and moving forward, agencies should carefully ensure that some key principles are adhered to as cloud-based solutions are implemented.
Government should insist on standards-based cloud approaches. It should require “mix-and-match” flexibility and capability. It should resist “multitenant” approaches to help ensure security, permit more rapid deployment and accommodate increased capacity. And it should demand easy “integration”; buying a hodgepodge of IT solutions didn’t make sense before government embraced the cloud, and it doesn’t make sense now. Cloud First offers the chance for government to do more with less — but only if it’s implemented wisely.
Eileen Shields-West, author of “The World Almanac of Presidential Campaigns”
Innovations in education.
In his “brain freeze” debate moment, Texas Gov. Rick Perry glibly noted that if he were ever president, he would “do away with” the departments of Education, Commerce and then “oops” — he could not remember the third department he wanted to lop off willy-nilly, just like the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland.”
Some called his forgetfulness “retribution” for mentioning Education in the first place. Others called it ridiculous to wish Education away. Is he also thinking of doing away with all federal aid to Education? And so much more, ever since Arne Duncan arrived as President Barack Obama’s secretary of education. Duncan has been called the most assertive education secretary ever, and he vies with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as Obama’s most effective Cabinet secretary.
In 2009, he turned the education world upside down with a $4 billion Race to the Top competition in which states were pitted against each other in reaching for the brass ring of millions of dollars in education grants. The initiative, which saw Tennessee and Delaware receive the first grants last year, changed the education landscape, with many reforms coming directly from teachers themselves.
In 2011, the competitive nature of education grants continued, even though critics charged that the rewards are not shared evenly and, therefore, some states suffer. Duncan has begged to differ, noting that even states that did not win grants have made “unprecedented changes” in their state education laws because they want to get in the game.
This year, Duncan announced two new competitions: the Early Learning Challenge and the Digital Promise initiative. He said the Early Learning Challenge is a “game changer” that will make more slots available for poor children in early education, align early-education programs with K-12 curriculums and improve training for teachers.
The Digital Promise initiative is meant to transform teaching and learning inside and outside of classrooms while creating a business environment that rewards innovation and entrepreneurship.
Duncan believes that a healthy dose of competition is good for education, and he intends to continue on this course. Just recently, he raised the bar again by saying, “We need to elevate teachers” and endorsing a “doubling” of their salaries. That would amount to the biggest innovation yet.
DEAN BAKER, co-director, Center for Economic and Policy Research
My nomination for best policy idea of the year is a financial speculation tax. The Joint Committee on Taxation just scored the bill offered by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) as a proposal that would raise more than $350 billion over the next decade. This is real money that would come almost exclusively out of the pockets of Wall Street. In other words, it would raise a substantial sum of revenue by eliminating wasteful speculation by the highflying finance types. What could possibly be better?
JEANNE ALLEN, president, Center for Education Reform
Indiana’s sweeping education reforms set a national bar.
Education reform was front and center for many states during 2011. From new or expanded charter school laws to the once-controversial notion of school choice — aka vouchers — to performance pay for teachers and tenure reforms, education dominated headlines and statehouses. But for all the activity, the sweeping reforms that took place in Indiana stand out.
The innovations in the Hoosier State broke the decades-old fixation on zoning children into schools by ZIP code, creating a new environment of expansion for charter schools and giving school districts new flexibility in addressing inflexible union contracts.
In just one legislative session, Indiana catapulted itself to the top of the list for school choice states. And the benefit of the hard work came into focus in November, when Indiana’s became the nation’s largest first-year program, with nearly 4,000 students accepted for school vouchers.
The statewide program, which has the broadest eligibility of any school choice program in the country, allows low- and middle-income families the ability to choose a private school.
The Legislature also took steps to increase the number of quality charter schools offering public-school options when it approved a proposal to allow most of the state’s private colleges to sponsor charter schools. It enabled charters to take over unused buildings owned by traditional public schools. The state also gave online virtual charter schools a boost with more equitable funding.
That level of reform would have been enough to satisfy many states. But in Indiana, the Legislature went a step further and addressed some of the inherent flaws that have plagued education throughout the nation.
Indiana limited the scope of collective-bargaining agreements between teachers unions and school districts, established performance pay for teachers and tied student performance to the teacher evaluation process. With the disappearance of ironclad tenure for teachers and the arrival of merit-based promotions, Indiana has laid the groundwork for public-school reforms that will revolutionize its industry of learning.
ELAINE KAMARCK and JAMES PINKERTON, co-chairs, Reducing America’s Taxes Equitably, former White House advisers, respectively, to President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, and Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush
Bipartisan tax reform is on the horizon.
In a year that has been famously short on bipartisanship, one of the most important policy developments has been the return of bipartisan consensus on tax reform, defined as lower tax rates and a broader tax base. That’s the consensus that we saw back in 1986, when President Ronald Reagan and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski worked together to enact pro-growth tax reform.
Today, a quarter-century later, a revived consensus — not yet fully formed but, nonetheless, forming — gives us hope that Washington officialdom can once again come together for the common good. And that common good can be defined as two connected concepts: first, more jobs from faster economic growth, and second, greater public confidence that the Tax Code is transparent and equitable.
This consensus includes a wide spectrum of leaders and experts — including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, the “deficit hawks” of the Simpson-Bowles commission, and many top economists. All have come to realize that at 35 percent, America has the second-highest corporate income tax rate in the industrialized world and that this high tax rate damages America’s economic competitiveness. And so, all converged around the idea that the corporate tax rate should be reduced in order to strengthen American business and create jobs. Yet at the same time, as rates are lowered, this consensus further maintains the Tax Code should be “cleaned up” to eliminate the breaks and shelters that infuriate so many Americans.
It’s said that politics is the art of the possible and so, too, is policy. The lower-rates-and-fewer-breaks vision is one tax reform plan that could be enacted. The country is mad at politicians of both parties these days. A tax deal could be beneficial to both sides. It is not only good policy; it’s also good politics.