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April 30 2015

Maverick Democrat Alice Rivlin on Real Fiscal Reforms

Rachel DiCarlo Currie

Few Washington economists have a more distinguished CV than Alice Rivlin. After serving as founding director of the Congressional Budget Office from 1975 to 1983, she later became White House budget chief and vice chair of the Federal Reserve under President Clinton. More recently, she was a member of the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission and co-chair of a separate debt panel convened by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

These days, Rivlin is a political rarity: a prominent Democrat who supports serious entitlement reforms along with rate-lowering, base-broadening tax reforms. In a speech last week to the Economic Club of New York (ECNY), she made a number of important points about America’s often surreal budget debate.

“With slow growth inhibiting shared prosperity,” said Rivlin, “we need to make the case for shifting federal spending -- at the margin and over time -- toward productivity enhancing public investment and away from lower-priority consumption.”

In other words, we need to stop letting unreformed entitlements crowd out worthy discretionary spending. As analyst Ron Haskins has written, the growth of federal outlays in three areas -- health care, Social Security, and debt service -- is effectively creating a “Chinese water torture slow crisis in which spending on programs vital to the nation’s future [is] gradually starved.”

As for tax reform, Rivlin emphasized in her ECNY remarks that “reforming our tax code to broaden the base and lower the rates . . . could give us a tax system that is more progressive, more conducive to growth, and raises more revenue.”


I don’t agree with everything in her remarks -- indeed, I strongly disagree with her comments on political speech -- but they are worthwhile reading for anyone interested in U.S. economic policy and the federal budget.

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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