2014 in Review

How to Govern in a Polarized America

A BPC analysis shows that the number of competitive U.S. congressional districts has declined since the 1970s. More than 50 million eligible citizens aren’t registered to vote. The Commission on Political Reform released its landmark report, Governing in a Polarized America: A Bipartisan Blueprint to Strengthen our Democracy, arguing for a more robust democracy by creating a fairer and more open electoral system, transforming Congress into a higher-performing organization, and calling for a more engaged citizenry through public service. Recommendations include disclosure of campaign contributions, creating bipartisan redistricting commissions, improving voter registration, restoring regular order in Congress, and repairing an overburdened federal appointments process. After the report’s release, BPC advocated for changes in congressional rules and for improvements to state elections. These efforts will continue throughout the year and ramp up as the 2016 presidential election approaches.

Retirement Security

Millions of Americans are approaching retirement with inadequate savings. The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that more than 40 percent of baby-boomers and Gen-Xers are likely to run short of money in retirement. Moreover, a recent Pew study found most American households do not have enough liquid savings to replace their income for even a month. To address these issues, BPC launched the 20-member Commission on Retirement Security and Personal Savings, which will release recommendations in 2015 designed to improve the U.S. retirement system, including Social Security, disability insurance, defined benefit pensions, defined contribution savings vehicles like 401(k) plans, other personal savings, and strategies to ensure lifetime income.

CEOs: Making Health Care Work

Together with their employees, private-sector employers bear more than half of the nation’s $2.8 trillion in health care expenditures. In September, CEOs from some of the nation’s largest employers, including the Coca-Cola Company, Verizon, and Bank of America, worked with BPC to form the CEO Council on Health Innovation and to release Building Better Health: Innovative Strategies from America’s Business Leaders. The consensus report shares the companies’ most successful strategies for addressing the nation’s most pressing health care challenges. Commitments and actions fall into three areas: improving the health and wellness of individuals, improving the health of communities, and improving the health care system. An interactive website (healthinnovationcouncil.org) allows employers to make commitments to action and contains a wealth of resources on successful strategies. In 2015, the council will launch a series of pilots, including a physical activity challenge to improve employee health.

How Important Is Turkey in Defeating ISIS? Very.

In 2014, a new threat to the United States emerged: the Islamic State (or ISIS). With surprising speed, the terrorist group overran significant swaths of Iraq and Syria, threatening regional stability and international security. A group of BPC experts concluded that not enough was being done to engage Turkey in confronting ISIS. In The American Interest, a quarterly review focusing on foreign policy, BPC Turkey Task Force members Henri Barkey and Eric Edelman wrote that the United States must act quickly to stop ISIS from overrunning the Syrian border town of Kobani: “The fall of Kobani would have a devastating impact not just on the Kurds in the region, but on the credibility of America’s anti-ISIS strategy.” Addressing the challenge facing American policymakers, BPC’s National Security Program Director Blaise Misztal wrote, “Refraining from chastising the Turkish government for policies that run counter to U.S. priorities—or, in the case of ISIS, a regional policy of supporting extremists that helped create the current crisis in the first place—is unlikely to push Turkey from a reluctant to a willing member of the U.S.-led coalition.”

The Housing Summit: “It Is an American Issue”

Housing comprises nearly one-fifth of the U.S. economy. The sector is a barometer of the nation’s overall economic health, predicting and reflecting conditions from the boardroom conference table to the kitchen table. The BPC “Housing America’s Future: New Directions for National Policy” two-day summit was the capstone of BPC’s Housing Commission. Over the past three years, the Housing Commission developed and advocated for a series of specific housing finance reforms and advanced ideas to improve and balanced existing federal housing policy. For the more than 1,200 attendees, the summit offered an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the housing sector and to interact with an unusually broad array of people and interests. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Julián Castro headlined the summit, declaring: “As the Bipartisan Policy Center knows better than anyone, housing is not a Republican or Democratic issue. It is an American issue.” 

“The Bipartisan Policy Center has been in the forefront of the housing policy discussion, identifying bipartisan solutions on housing finance reform. BPC created a constructive dialogue to help move the conversation forward.” - Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID)

Value, Not Volume: Health Care’s Future

A whopping one-fifth of all U.S. spending goes to health care. So, while Obamacare debates rage on Capitol Hill, BPC is at work analyzing options for delivering higher-quality health care at lower costs. In June, BPC launched the Delivery System Reform Initiative to help accelerate the transition to higher-value, more coordinated health care payment and delivery systems—all under the leadership of former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and Bill Frist, former Congressional Budget Office Director Alice Rivlin, and former House Ways and Means Ranking Member Jim McCrery. BPC initiated this work with a report, A Bipartisan Rx for Patient-Centered Care and System-Wide Cost Containment. At the initiative’s launch, a panel of health policy experts—including Deputy Administrator for Innovation and Quality and Chief Medical Officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Dr. Patrick Conway—talked about what’s ahead for health care providers as they navigate this transition. In 2015, BPC will release policy recommendations on the roles of accountable-care organizations and fee-for-service programs.

Advancing a New Oversight Framework for Health Information Technology

BPC has played an instrumental role in developing and advancing a new oversight framework for health information technology that both promotes innovation and protects patient safety. Developed in 2013 through a collaborative effort involving hundreds of experts and stakeholders, the principles and recommendations in the BPC oversight framework were reflected in the administration’s draft health IT plan released in April 2014 and legislation introduced in Congress. The framework, along with actions taken since its release, were highlighted during a BPC event, “Promoting Innovation, Protecting Patient Safety: Advancing Use of Technology in Health Care” in December. In the 114th Congress, there is increasing momentum for ensuring that laws and regulations keep pace with science and technology – including in the areas of drugs, medical devices, and health IT. This will be critical for the U.S. to remain a global leader in innovation, discovery, development, and delivery of treatments and technologies that improve lives.

The Debt Limit at the Eleventh Hour

As history shows, when legislators delay raising the debt limit, taxpayers lose billions and the stock market plunges. In 2013, America again found itself at the edge of a fiscal cliff. BPC released quantitative analysis demonstrating that, absent congressional action, the Treasury Department would likely be unable to meet its financial obligations by March 14, 2014. The analysis also explored the devastating impacts of a U.S. default on sovereign debt. In the weeks before the deadline, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew gave a keynote address at BPC, asserting, “Delaying action [would] cause harm to our economy, rattle financial markets, and hurt taxpayers.” Later that month, Congress voted to increase the debt limit. This issue will recur in 2015. In addition to helping the public and policymakers understand the repercussions of inaction, BPC is working to develop a more sustainable solution to end the yearly congressional crisis.

9/11 Commission Tackles New Threats

With mounting threats from a resurgent Al Qaeda and a menacing Islamic State, BPC brought the 9/11 Commission members back together ten years after the release of The 9/11 Commission Report to ask: “Are We Safer?” In partnership with the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, the nine-month effort—led by former 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and former Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton—produced a new report, Today’s Rising Terrorist Threat and the Danger to the United States: Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of The 9/11 Commission Report, calling for a vigorous, proactive counterterrorism effort. Commissioners also cautioned that the United States should be aggressive in confronting the looming cyber threat: “One lesson of the 9/11 story is that, as a nation, Americans did not awaken to the gravity of the terrorist threat until it was too late. History may be repeating itself in the cyber realm. The Internet’s vulnerabilities are outpacing the nation’s ability to secure it.”

Dodd-Frank: Four Years In

In 2008, a series of failures and shocks led to a near-collapse of the global financial system, requiring an unprecedented level of public support to stem a full-scale financial panic. The Dodd-Frank Act confronted the too-big-to-fail problem, but not surprisingly did not resolve all the issues related to U.S. financial regulation. In April 2014, BPC released Dodd-Frank’s Missed Opportunity, which outlined a road map for achieving a more rational and effective financial regulatory architecture over time. To mark the four-year anniversary of the Dodd-Frank Act in July, BPC hosted a discussion of what has been accomplished in regulatory reform since the financial crisis, what challenges remain, and BPC’s recommendations for how to address them. The forum featured former Senator Chris Dodd, former U.S. Comptroller of the Currency Gene Ludwig, and a bipartisan panel of experts. At the anniversary event, BPC released Dodd-Frank: Progress, Challenges, and Solutions, identifying three top-ten lists: where Dodd-Frank made progress, where implementation could be more effective, and where Congress could improve the legislation.

Spend Smart. Build Smart.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has given U.S. infrastructure a D+ grade. And yet, this critical domestic issue is facing a funding crisis. “It is really important, in a world where there are finite resources, that we spend smart,” said Antonio Villaraigosa, BPC senior fellow and former mayor of Los Angeles, at the BPC event “Filling the Gap: Private Sector Solutions for Infrastructure Finance.” Concerns over America’s weak federal infrastructure investments are well known. But, rather than lamenting the inadequacy of federal funding, the event focused on opportunities to increase private investment in critical infrastructure. “With a concentrated effort between the private sector and the public sector,” said Doug Peterson, president and CEO of McGraw Hill Financial, “we believe there are solutions to reverse the trend and find ways to bring financing back to infrastructure.” In 2015, BPC will initiate a new effort with leading CEOs to explore these private-sector solutions.

Power Position

President Obama’s direction that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants dominated much of the 2014 energy debate. In conjunction with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, BPC kicked off the year by initiating a series of public workshops. The series explored the environmental and economical impacts of EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas regulation of existing power plants under the Clean Air Act. To advance constructive dialogue on this complex topic, the workshops explored the differences among current state regulations, the necessary flexibility that should be reflected in a new regulation, the affordability and reliability issues that must be addressed, the implications for energy efficiency, and more. The forums gathered EPA officials, public-utility commissioners, environmental leaders, power company executives, technology providers, and other experts.