CFR Presents

Renewing America

Ideas and initiatives for rebuilding American economic strength.

Morning Brief: Popular Tax Breaks Sustain Complexity

by Renewing America Staff Thursday, April 19, 2012
A 2011 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return Form. (Shannon Stapleton/Courtesy Reuters) A 2011 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return Form. (Shannon Stapleton/Courtesy Reuters)

The Atlantic argues that the extensive use of income tax breaks creates a complex tax system that many decry, but few are willing to unravel by eliminating popular deductions or the refundable credits that maintain progressivity. Furthermore, using the tax code to meet policy goals creates a hidden expense larger than Medicare or defense spending. A Wall Street Journal analysis found that the average income tax rate generally increases with rising adjusted gross income, even though many deductions and the lower capital gains tax rate disproportionately benefit those with higher incomes. Read more »

Morning Brief: Replacing a Bridge Over the Weekend

by Renewing America Staff Wednesday, April 18, 2012
A ship-borne 300-foot crane positions itself for a Golden Gate Bridge construction project in March 2009. (Robert Galbraith/Courtesy Reuters) A ship-borne 300-foot crane positions itself for a Golden Gate Bridge construction project in March 2009. (Robert Galbraith/Courtesy Reuters)

While many bridge construction projects take months or years to complete, Massachusetts can replace a bridge in a weekend (NYT). Accelerated construction techniques include “heavy lift,” in which bridge segments are prefabricated then hoisted and dropped into place. While the article profiles the installation of a single segment, 400-ton bridge that spanned two railroad tracks, the technique can expedite larger projects and limit lane closures. A project to replace a 300-foot stretch of San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge is underway and will deploy 78 prefabricated segments, one at a time. Read more »

Visas and Travel: One Step Forward, Two to Go

by Edward Alden Tuesday, April 17, 2012
President Obama speaking in front of Cinderella's Castle at Disney World's Magic Kingdom on January 19, 2012 (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters). President Obama speaking in front of Cinderella's Castle at Disney World's Magic Kingdom on January 19, 2012 (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters).

Large, bureaucracies are notoriously difficult to move, but when they do it can sometimes happen with extraordinary speed. Consider what has happened on U.S. visa processing over the past six months or so.

In the decade since 9/11, long wait times for visa interviews have been a chronic problem, eliciting complaints from business, the tourist industry, universities, and others. The State Department has periodically thrown additional resources at the problem in one country or another, but the fixes rarely lasted for long. Read more »

Morning Brief: Senate Stalls Buffett Rule

by Renewing America Staff Tuesday, April 17, 2012
President Obama awards the Medal of Freedom to Warren Buffet at a White House ceremony on February 15, 2011. (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters) President Obama awards the Medal of Freedom to Warren Buffet at a White House ceremony on February 15, 2011. (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

The Senate failed to muster the sixty votes necessary to advance the debate on the proposed “Buffett Rule” (TheHill). The mostly party line 51-45 vote comes after the Obama administration stepped up its promotion of the 30 percent minimum income tax rate on those making more than $2 million in a year, which begins to phase in at $1 million. Polls suggest six in ten Americans support the measure, although the plan is expected to raise only $47 billion over the next decade. Read more »

Morning Brief: U.S.-Colombia FTA to Take Effect on May 15

by Renewing America Staff Monday, April 16, 2012
A worker assembles tracks on a Caterpillar bulldozer at a Texan equipment dealer; the Peoria, Ill.-based manufacturer is expected to be a large beneficiary of improved trade opportunities with Colombia. (Richard Carson/Courtesy Reuters) A worker assembles tracks on a Caterpillar bulldozer at a Texan equipment dealer; the Peoria, Ill.-based manufacturer is expected to be a large beneficiary of improved trade opportunities with Colombia. (Richard Carson/Courtesy Reuters)

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced that the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA) will take effect on May 15 (TheHill). The deal is now able to go into force because the Obama administration determined that Colombia has sufficiently addressed concerns about that nation’s treatment of its workers; U.S. union leaders such as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka disagree with the government’s determination. CTPA was originally negotiated and signed under the Bush administration but not ratified in the United States until last October. Read more »

President Bill Clinton on Inequality, Exports, and America’s Future

by Edward Alden Friday, April 13, 2012
Former President Bill Clinton in a recent speech (Fredy Builes/Courtesy Reuters Former President Bill Clinton in a recent speech (Fredy Builes/Courtesy Reuters)

Former President Bill Clinton has always had an impressive ability to explain complicated issues in a way that leaves his audience thinking, “duh, of course”–even if they’d never quite had the same thought before. I came away with that feeling again from the keynote speech he delivered at the annual conference of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Read more »

Morning Brief: GOP Mulls Tying Pipeline to Highway Bill

by Renewing America Staff Friday, April 13, 2012
House Speaker John Boehner attends the GOP news conference on the Keystone XL pipeline decision in Washington on January 18, 2012. (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters) House Speaker John Boehner attends the GOP news conference on the Keystone XL pipeline decision in Washington on January 18, 2012. (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters)

Republican leaders in the House plan to attach provisions to yet another extension of the highway bill to pressure the Obama administration on the proposed Keystone pipeline (TheHill). The TransCanada project would bring oil from Alberta’s tar sands to U.S. refineries. With elections looming in November, Congress is expected to pass a tenth temporary extension to the federal transportation funding bill before funds end at the end of June rather than pass a longer term measure. Read more »

Morning Brief: College May Not be Everyone’s Best Investment

by Renewing America Staff Thursday, April 12, 2012
Graduating student Abel Charrow advertises to potential employers at the University of Southern California’s May 2007 commencement. (Mario Anzuoni/Courtesy Reuters) Graduating student Abel Charrow advertises to potential employers at the University of Southern California’s May 2007 commencement. (Mario Anzuoni/Courtesy Reuters)

The rising rate of college attendance is often touted as a great success story, but the 40 percent college dropout rate may support the argument that college is not for everyone (BusinessWeek). The author argues that the average value of a college education is misleading because of the considerable variation in opportunities available to graduates from different majors and schools. He suggests that high school graduates in the 2nd and 3rd quartiles consider a two-year program, and then perhaps transfer to a four-year school. Read more »

Morning Brief: Export Potential of Services Overlooked

by Renewing America Staff Wednesday, April 11, 2012
A construction site of China Construction Bank is seen in front of Bank of America Tower in Hong Kong. (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters) A construction site of China Construction Bank is seen in front of Bank of America Tower in Hong Kong. (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters)

Proposals to increase U.S. exports usually focus on manufacturing and ignore the U.S. competitive advantage in high-skilled services (NYT). While the WTO and other international trade agreements have reduced barriers and tariffs for goods, services are still in need of trade liberalization. The United States is by far the world’s largest services exporter, but reducing barriers in tradable services could double that total and add more than $800 billion in annual exports and three million new jobs. Read more »

The Infrastructure Mess: Time for Some Small Steps Forward

by Edward Alden Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Gridlock traffic is pictured on highway 395 (Jason Reed/Reuters). Gridlock traffic is pictured on highway 395 (Jason Reed/Reuters).

In the wake of the latest, sadly predictable failure by the Congress to pass a long-term highway funding bill, the Renewing America initiative is releasing today a new Policy Innovation Memo, Encouraging U.S. Infrastructure Investment, by Scott Thomasson, the president of NewBuild Strategies and an expert on infrastructure financing. Read more »