Iraq, Unemployment Benefits, Student Loans, and More: It all comes back to the federal budget

Above (L-R): Doug Hall, Dennis Bidwell (NPP Board Chair), and Jo Comerford (past NPP executive director)

It has now been two weeks since I began my tenure as Executive Director of the National Priorities Project, following five years at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). After serving on the NPP Board for the past few years, I know how important the work is, shedding light on areas such as military action in Iraq, student loan debt, unemployment insurance, and the so-called “tax extenders”, distilling these complex issues into digestible chunks for a citizenry hungry for accessible information. Of course, it takes a great staff to be able to do such work, and I am very appreciative of the work this staff has done in the past, and of the opportunity to lead this team. (We are also blessed to have an ongoing relationship with our previous Executive Director, Jo Comerford, who continues to share her knowledge and wisdom with us in her role as Senior Advisor).

Like most organizations (and certainly most non-profits), NPP is led by our mission statement, to:

 “…make our complex federal budget transparent and accessible so people can exercise their right and responsibility to oversee and influence how their tax dollars are spent.”

Inherent in our mission is a belief that as people become more aware of both the process and outcome of federal budgeting, that they will learn about the implicit tradeoffs in budget choices, and be able to weigh those choices against their own sense of what our national priorities should be.

I come to NPP with established (and greatly valued) relationships with many organizations and networks that are also partners with NPP, such as the Coalition on Human Needs, the National Women’s Law Center, and Jobs With Justice. For these and many other wonderful organizations nationwide, NPP provides critical resources that inform the important campaigns they are pursuing to improve the well-being of Americans.

This is an exciting time to be taking the reins at NPP, even beyond the thrill of having a business card that actually says “Nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize”!  Staff have been working feverishly to put the finishing touches on a comprehensive – and groundbreaking – project that will track federal money flowing into states (and communities), as well as what states pay back into the federal treasury.  Because my work at EPI was focused primarily at the state level, where the impact of federal budget decisions is felt acutely, I know this information will be invaluable for several critical state-based networks (including the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN), the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative (SFAI), and KIDS COUNT). These public policy research organizations see firsthand how important federal dollars are to the quality of life for families in their respective states. Recent battles over Medicaid expansion provide a great case in point, with state groups from Alabama to Wyoming recognizing the positive impact that Medicaid expansion will have on the health of both their citizens and their state economies. Indeed, for the millions of Americans whose health lies in the balance, these federal budget decisions can literally be a matter of life or death.

Other work forthcoming from NPP will build on the success of our recent report on tax expenditures, reflecting the fact that a dollar in revenue foregone through tax breaks is as significant to the well-being of Americans as is a dollar raised and spent through the normal appropriations process, and therefore merits equal attention. And we will continue to ensure that the amazing tools that underlie NPP’s website provide windows into the dark corners of the federal budget process.

National Priorities Project remains at the forefront of these and other important federal budget discussions ranging from military spending to the debt and deficit to government transparency  – ensuring sunlight exposes the nuances of our nation’s spending and revenue, for the betterment of all.

I look forward to partnering with many of you as we move boldly forward. If you have ideas on how NPP can partner with your organization on important federal budget issues, please reach out to me either via email or on Twitter. Onward!