Concord Coalition Alumni Assess the Biggest Challenges for the Next 30 Years

Special Guests: Maya MacGuineas, Ben Ritz, Diane Lim, Brian Keane

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This week on Facing the Future, we hear excerpts from a special event held recently at the National Press Club to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Concord Coalition’s founding. We convened an all-star panel of leading experts each of whom at one time worked for the Concord Coalition, and have since gone on to distinguished careers influencing the debate on Capitol Hill over how we should address our fiscal and economic challenges.  Co-hosting the panel discussion with me was Concord’s current policy director Tori Gorman.

The panelists included: 

Diane Lim, a.k.a  the ‘Economist Mom’, who is currently the  Policy Director for the U.S. House Select Committee on Economic Disparity & Fairness in Growth. Diane once served as chief economist for the Concord Coalition. 

Ben Ritz, Director of the Center for Funding America’s Future at the Progressive Policy Institute. Ben started his career as legislative and outreach director for the Concord Coalition.  Maya MacGuineas, President of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, who is an influential thought leader and frequently testifies before Congress on budget and entitlement reform issues. Maya started her career as an intern for The Concord Coalition.

Brian Keane, a veteran of the 1992 Paul Tsongas presidential campaign who later became one of Concord’s first national field directors. Brian is now President of SmartPower, a Washington, DC based non-profit renewable energy and energy efficiency outreach and marketing organization. 

In addressing the biggest challenges we face over the next 30 years, all agreed that we need to do more to slow the growth of our national debt and boost economic growth. However each of the panelists had a slightly different take. Diane Lim spoke about the findings of the House select committee related to growing the economy.  

“We need to invest more in people, the federal government needs to invest more in people. It’s so fundamental,” said Lim. “The economy starts with people, before you get to worry about the saving and investment that you have to do. So we are calling for proposals like universal pre-K, paid family leave, subsidies to the childcare industry because it turns out only high income people can afford to put their kids in childcare. Which means, only high income women can afford to go out to work. It has to be more affordable for people to have families in this country. The federal government can no longer just say oh – state and local government – you can take care of that stuff. Or, oh – private sector – you’re donating money to reduce poverty – that’s fine. The money is really with the federal government.”  

Brian Keane said he sees major synergy between the twin existential crises of unsustainable debt and climate change – both of which are starting to have serious  economic impact.

“People literally throw up their hands and say what can I do about either the deficit or climate? Our approach at SmartPower has been the same approach we had with Concord, which is, you have to personalize it, and you have to give people solutions that they themselves can actually do,” said Keane. “Every time there’s a hurricane that we don’t anticipate, we have to pay for it. When there is a storm that shuts down transportation and prevents people from going to work, there are economic implications to that that we have to start accounting for. Then if you look at the opportunity side of this thing, the United States focus on climate and sustainability gives the opportunity for all of us to actually be the engine that powers the economy, and that economy can really turn things around. When we create our own energy here at home as opposed to buying it from another country, that presents a huge opportunity for our economy.” 

Ben Ritz described the well known fiscal challenges facing Social Security and Medicare. He said he does not think that either political party has a realistic plan for dealing with the problem. He also discussed the need for more revenue to help slow the growth of our national debt.  Ritz said his team at the Progressive Policy Institute has been looking at a few options. 

“There are two tax policy areas we have really started to focus on more. One of them is consumption taxes,” said Ritz. “Consumption taxes are economically efficient, they don’t discourage work, you can design them to be progressive with different offsets. And, it’s generationally neutral and fair. This is how all of the European countries and every country with a developed welfare state funds it. You have to have some kind of consumption tax. Another area we have been looking at is inheritance taxes. Inheritances are generally money that the individual hasn’t worked for, so you can tax it. You’re not really discouraging anything if you raise the estate or inheritance tax rate. It’s also extremely progressive because lower and middle income people don’t leave a whole lot to their heirs, and these sources of intergenerational wealth transfers are a big driver of inequality.”

A big question hanging over all of this is whether or not a divided Congress – at a time of high political polarization – will be able to collaborate on anything in the next two years. Maya MacGuineas said she is not convinced we can make any progress. 

“In order to get a big fiscal deal, a grand bargain, or even a tiny baby step in the right direction, you need a Congress that is willing to focus on the long-term gains rather than just the immediate gains, and polarization makes that worse,” said MacGuineas. “You need a Congress that’s willing to focus on good policy instead of just good politics. We know how to fix Social Security, it’s just that politically it’s just so easy to demagogue it that we haven’t done that. As a result, we’ve jeopardized all these people who depend on it. It requires compromise. It’s going to take entitlement reforms, spending cuts, and tax increases. In this world of ‘tax cuts pay for themselves,’ and ‘this program is way too important that we can’t possibly pay for it,’ I think we are very able to work bipartisanly when we are adding to the debt.”

She ended, however, with an optimistic thought, saying. “Then I think about people like Mitt Romney and Joe Manchin and this group we have been working with in the House led by Scott Peters and Jody Arrington, and I actually think there are enough people out there across the spectrum who are trying to bring this issue of debt front and center and are trying to take steps in the right direction.”    

Video from the entire event can be seen here:

Hear more on Facing the Future. I host the program each week on WKXL in Concord N.H., and it is also available via podcast. Join our guests as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders, and elected officials. Past broadcasts are available here. You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or with an RSS feed. Follow Facing the Future on Facebook, and watch videos from past episodes on The Concord Coalition YouTube channel.

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