As politicians engage in “debates” over how worst to address the nation’s ballooning debt (the hideous Ryan death budget, which will effectively end Medicare as we know it, being the most egregious offender), six think-tanks have provided prospective road maps to fiscal solvency which appear to buck conventional Beltway wisdom.
Commissioned by the redundantly titled Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the recently released “2011 Fiscal Summit” report offers six blueprints for reigning in the national debt as designed by a wide array of policy groups and think tanks, including the conservative American Enterprise Institute, the milquetoast centrist Bipartisan Policy Center, the somewhat progressive Center for American Progress, the working class-minded Economic Policy Institute, the Koch-funded conservative Heritage Foundation and, finally, the Roosevelt Institute’s Campus Network, which represents the interests of America’s “Halo”-addicted college students.
You can read the report in its entirety here (PDF), and can rest assured that the various groups have their differences. But the areas in which these disparate organizations converge are what’s most interesting…
According to the foundation’s comparisons of the varying plans, it appears as though American political thought is, in reality, fairly left of center:
The six organizations support maintaining a social safety net for those who need it. Somegroups would make social programs more generous than others, and there are differences in the specific policies, but all preserve a role for government in maintaining health and retirement security for low-income citizens. Further, by putting America on a fiscally sustainable path, all of the plans help to ensure that safety nets will be more secure for future generations.
All agree that we cannot subsidize the well-off the way we currently do. The proposed reforms include reduced benefits, higher taxes, or both. There is agreement that Americans with higher incomes should bear more of the burden of closing the budget gap.
The grantees agree that the more than $1 trillion in so-called “tax expenditures” are fertile ground for reform. Tax expenditures include incentives, credits, subsidies, exclusions, and deductions — such as the exemption from individual income of employer-provided health insurance (which employers also can deduct from taxable income), the deductibility of interest on home mortgages of up to $1 million, and the deferral of foreign corporate income. Besides adding great complexity to the tax system, tax expenditures essentially act as spending programs that are not subject to regular review during the annual budget process. The benefits of tax expenditures go disproportionately to people with higher incomes and many are the result of intense lobbying efforts. Until recently, tax expenditures drew little scrutiny outside budget circles, but the Bowles-Simpson commission put tax expenditures at the center of the public policy debate, and today leaders across the political spectrum are considering ways to reduce or eliminate them.