Democratic Think Tank Mixes Ideas With Bush-Bashing
Behind a sulfurous
fog of anti-Bush diatribes, there is a Democratic new-idea factory
operating at the Center for American Progress.
that CAP labels itself a "nonpartisan" think tank. It's
manned almost exclusively by Democrats. It was created and is
headed by Bill Clinton's high-energy former White House chief
of staff, John Podesta. And practically every pronouncement it
makes, even on the ideas front, is couched in anti-Bush vituperation.
a thoughtful CAP report proposing a new U.S. national security
strategy called "Integrated Power" says in its executive
summary that because of President Bush, "our military is
weaker, many of our historic alliances are frayed, our Treasury
is depleted, Osama Bin Laden remains at large and our tarnished
reputation abroad has diminished our capacity to exercise moral
have been said by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 or on any
afternoon by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). In
fact, it was written by Lawrence Korb, a Defense Department official
in the first Reagan administration and the CAP's main claim to
bipartisanship, and former Clinton White House aide Bob Boorstin.
advocates a foreign policy that combines "hard" military
power - an increase of 86,000 active duty personnel and a doubling
of Special Forces - with more attention to "soft" power,
including alliance-building, poverty-fighting and dismantling
also rules out Bush's "discredited doctrine of preventive
war," as in Iraq, but does threaten "decisive military
action" if Iran and North Korea were to export nuclear weapons.
Brian Katulis, another former Clinton aide, recently published
a plan for phased total withdrawal ("redeployment")
from Iraq by the end of 2007 - an idea that gives Democrats a
responsible answer to the question, "OK, what's your alternative
to Bush policy?"
Korb and Katulis devoted half their report to denouncing Bush.
And Podesta recently joined the Democratic claque declaring Iraq
the CAP in October 2003, arguing that Democrats needed an alternative
to the GOP's ideas factories, the Heritage Foundation and the
American Enterprise Institute. In just two years, he's built the
CAP into a $15 million-a-year operation with 100 employees, including
50-odd senior officials and experts who produce reports and critiques.
Palmieri, the CAP's spokeswoman and former press secretary of
the presidential campaign of former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.),
said, "We are ideological, but we're not partisan. We are
liberal. We lean to the left the way Heritage and AEI lean to
the right. But we don't say, 'Vote for this candidate or against
but the CAP is certainly politically edgier than Heritage, AEI
or that former locus of Democrats-in-exile, the Brookings Institution.
None of them spends anywhere near as much energy denouncing the
adversary as the CAP does.
CAP's most visible single product, "Progress Report,"
a daily e-mail, is nearly 100 percent devoted to talking points
that shred Bush and other Republicans.
Report" is one project of the CAP's 501(c)(4) political "education"
arm, the Progress Action Fund, that Podesta says accounts for
only 15 percent of the CAP's total budget. The CAP itself is a
501(c)(3) tax-deductible charity.
To its credit,
the CAP is producing some arresting and politically attractive
ideas that could help the Democratic Party move past its penchant
for negativism and offer a new vision for the country.
A key one
is tax reform that would raise $500 billion more revenue over
10 years than under present Bush policy, cut taxes for 70 percent
of households and make the tax code simpler and more fair.
fashioned by former Edwards aide Robert Gordon and Ph.D. John
Irons, includes taxing all income, whether from labor or investments,
at the same rates; reducing the number of tax brackets from six
to three; eliminating employee-paid payroll taxes; and significantly
raising taxes for the well-off.
will surely howl at the idea that those who earn more than $120,000
a year would pay the top tax rate of 39.6 percent and that capital
gains and dividends could be taxed at that rate instead of the
current 15 percent.
Gordon say, however, that with payroll taxes eliminated, most
taxpayers in the $100,000 to $200,000 income range would have
their taxes cut and only those making more than $200,000 would
have their taxes raised, with the biggest increases going to those
who earn more than $1 million.
The CAP also
has a plan for universal health insurance, drafted by former Clinton
White House aide Jeanne Lambrew, that would knit together existing
government and private plans and give the uninsured and businesses
the option of joining the Federal Employee Health Benefit system.
The federal government would relieve employers of insurance costs
for preventive care. Low-income people would get an insurance
subsidy. The total cost would be $100 billion to $160 billion
a year, financed with a new value-added tax of 3 percent or 4
percent, with food and medicine exempted.
The CAP also
has an energy-independence plan designed to cut U.S. oil consumption
(now 20 million barrels a day) by 2.5 million barrels by 2012,
mostly by converting agricultural wastes and grasses to ethanol.
Another plan would relieve U.S. auto companies of their health
insurance burdens in return for investments in hybrid technology.
One rap on
the CAP is that, for all the ex-Clinton people around, it's developed
few pioneering, "third way" ideas such as Clinton's
might be in education policy, where a plan written by Gordon suggests
merit pay for teachers - an idea loathed by the National Education
Association - as well as voluntary national academic standards,
lengthening the school day and school year and rigorous assessment.
The plan was praised by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation,
although it does not go so far as to recommend tuition vouchers
that could liberate poor children from nonperforming schools.
The CAP also
has interesting, if predictable, ideas for post-Hurricane Katrina
development of the Gulf Coast, including massive employment of
local residents (at prevailing union wage rates, of course), with
built-in job training and efforts to scatter low-income housing
that Katrina marks a "tectonic shift" for U.S. politics,
revealing "the bankruptcy of conservative ideology and the
government it has produced" and creating an opportunity for
"a new progressive movement" to assert itself. He means
to give "progressives" - read "liberals" -
the ideas to do the job, as the CAP stokes them with lots of invective
against the enemy.
Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call.