WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the first of three wrap-ups for Jan. 22.
The National Center for Public Policy Research
(NCPPR is a communications and research foundation dedicated to providing free market solutions to today's public policy problems, based on the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility. NCPPR was founded to provide the conservative movement with a versatile and energetic organization capable of responding quickly and decisively to late-breaking issues, based on thorough research.)
CHICAGO -- Ten-second response -- Fast facts on the environment: Liberal senators critique Bush environmental policy
by Amy Ridenour
Background: Liberal elected officials, including Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton, N.Y., Dick Durbin, Ill., Frank Lautenberg, N.J., Patrick Leahy, Vt., Barbara Boxer, Calif., and independent Sen. Jim Jeffords, Vt., have recently issued alarmist criticisms of President Bush's environmental record. Sample statements:
Boxer: Bush is undertaking an "assault on the environment unlike anything I have seen in public life."
Durbin: These are "dangerous days for America."
Clinton: "The state of our environment is getting weaker and weaker, dirtier and dirtier."
Leahy: "So many environmental standards to roll back, and so little time. When it comes to the administration's policies on the environment, every Friday seems to be Friday the 13th."
Jeffords: Democrats must protect people "who will die" if Bush is allowed to rewrite environmental policy "in the dark of the night" and "it truly is a matter of life and death. We need to act fast to save as many of those people as we can."
Ten-second response: These senators have gone over the top with their criticisms, which are long on name-calling and politics and short on the substance of the environmental issues involved.
Thirty-second response: The charges made by the environmental left and its allies against President Bush are so exaggerated, and so emotional, they betray the senators' political motivations. If one compares the Democratic senators' assessment of President Bush's environmental record with other critiques of the president's environmental policies, one sees not only sharp differences in conclusions, but also in thoughtfulness.
Discussion: In "Midterm Report Card: Bush Administration's Environmental Policy," issued by the Political Economy Research Center's Center for Free Market Environmentalism on Jan. 22, the White House is given an average C- grade in 16 separate environmental policy areas. PERC stakes out some positions that differ from those associated with the White House and much of the GOP/conservative hierarchy. Nonetheless, it manages to do so in a thoughtful manner that the senators and any other critic would do well to imitate.
It is clear that Senate Democrats are hoping to exploit environment issues for political gain against President Bush. Their motives at this point are too transparent to succeed. These liberal senators won't reach their political goals, much less in make a serious contribution to the policy debate, unless they address these issues -- and their audience -- in a far more thoughtful and constructive manner.
(Amy Ridenour is the president of The National Center for Public Policy Research.)
The National Center for Policy Analysis
(The NCPA is a public policy research institute that seeks innovative private sector solutions to public policy problems.)
DALLAS, Texas -- Fighting for a principle energizes Bush supporters
by Bruce Bartlett
Last week, I had the opportunity to debate the estate tax with Bill Gates Sr., father of the Microsoft founder. He was in Washington to promote a new book he has co-authored on why the estate tax should be kept and not abolished in 2010 as current law dictates.
Gates has become the spokesman for a movement that believes the estate tax is not only an appropriate part of our tax system, but a highly desirable one. His argument, basically, is that the wealthy benefit a great deal from a stable government that keeps the peace, enforces contracts, trains the workers that business needs, and conducts much basic research in areas such as biotechnology that has given rise to many great fortunes.
Therefore, he says, the wealthy should give something back to society when they are gone. Anyway, giving a lot of money to your children often ruins their lives and the government needs the revenue from the estate tax.
Gates concedes that the estate tax needed reform. In particular, he admits that the $600,000 exemption level that existed before the repeal movement got going was much too low. Gates says that we should exempt $7 million of an estate from taxation, but have some sort of tax on the balance.
Those like Gates who wish to keep the estate tax know they are playing catch-up. Had they come forward with a reasonable proposal for exempting the first $7 million of an estate three or four years ago, it may have taken all the wind out of the sails of the repeal movement and preserved the estate tax in law. But supporters of the estate tax refused to compromise when compromise was viable politically. Now it is too late.
With estate tax repeal already in law, those favoring abolition hold the high cards. Their only weak spot is a screwy Senate rule that prevented permanent abolition of the estate tax when the law was passed in 2001. Because of this rule, tax cuts could only be enacted for 10 years. As a result, the estate tax comes back in 2011, after ceasing to exist for just one year.
To estate tax supporters, revival of the tax in eight years is their life raft. They are hoping to convince Congress not to extend repeal beyond 2010. Of course, supporters of repeal will use every legislative opportunity to make repeal permanent. If they do not succeed in doing so this year, they can probably extend repeal by two more years. As time goes by, permanent repeal becomes closer to final enactment.
What this experience teaches is something very important, not just about tax policy but the policymaking process. It shows that fighting for a principle, even if it seems absurdly unachievable, can be very good politics. By asking for far more than anyone thought was realistically possible, supporters of estate tax repeal changed the political dynamics, thereby forcing estate tax supporters to make concessions that they steadfastly opposed previously.
Fighting for a principle energizes your own supporters in a way that asking for something more politically realistic does not. It also gives you a chance to compromise, if necessary, from a position of strength. In the end, it is the other side that does most of the compromising. And you can always come back and ask for more another day.
President Bush seems to have learned these lessons from the estate tax fight with his proposal to eliminate taxes on corporate dividends. By all accounts, he was set to propose a 50 percent exclusion for dividends. But at the last minute, he decided to ask for total elimination of taxes on dividends and defend the policy as a matter of principle, rather than as just an effort to stimulate the economy.
This decision dramatically changed the terms of debate. Instead of debating whether lower taxes on dividends will stimulate growth -- a debate the administration might well lose, since it probably won't stimulate growth much in the short run -- the debate has mainly been about whether double taxation of corporate profits is proper tax policy per se. The result is that Bush's opponents are essentially arguing on his turf. As a consequence, it appears almost inevitable that some sort of dividend relief will be enacted even if total elimination of taxes on dividends is not achieved.
Had the administration started out asking for just a 50 percent exclusion, I would not be as optimistic. The lesson here is that if you ask for a full loaf you are more likely to end up with at least half a loaf. Whereas, if you start out asking for half a loaf, you may end up with nothing.
(Bruce Bartlett is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.)
PERC -- The Center for Free Market Environmentalism
PERC aims to bring market principles to resolving environmental problems through research and policy analysis, outreach activities and environmental education. PERC pioneered "free market environmentalism," which is based on the tenets that private property rights encourage stewardship of resources; government subsidies often degrade the environment; market incentives spur individuals to conserve resources and protect environmental quality; and polluters should be liable for the harm they cause others.
BOZEMAN, Mont. -- Bush gets a C-minus on environmental policy
Bruce Yandle, a senior associate at PERC and director of the PERC's new Midterm Report Card project says that President George W. Bush doesn't quite score a "gentleman's C" on his administration's environmental policy. The report rates the president on how well he applied free market principles to environmental policy during his first two years.
"The overall grade shows that President Bush's administration is moving away from the principles of free market environmentalism, when we thought he would be moving toward it," says Yandle. "We're disappointed.
"Where we expected most improvement -- public lands management -- little was accomplished except rhetorically. One of the few bright spots was water quality, where the EPA gets a B for introducing policies that protect water through local control and market trading."
Yandle's co-editors on the report included policy analysts from think tanks and universities, including: Terry L. Anderson (PERC); Holly Lippke Fretwell (PERC); B. Delworth Gardner (Brigham Young University); Donald R. Leal (PERC); Angela Logomasini (the Competitive Enterprise Institute); Brian Mannix (the Mercatus Center); David W. Riggs (the Capital Research Center); Joel Schwartz (the Reason Public Policy Institute); and Jane S. Shaw (PERC).
"There are two more years to go. If the administration can back some of its words with actions, there's hope for improvement."
The complete Midterm Report Card is available at perc.org/pdf/reportcard.pdf.