The Washington Post on Wednesday published responses from three think tank officials to a recent opinion piece by Post columnist Robert Samuelson. In his piece last week, Samuelson wrote that the "major presidential candidates -- Republican and Democratic -- are dodging one of the thorniest problems they would face if elected: the huge budget costs of aging baby boomers" for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and "Washington's vaunted think tanks -- citadels for public intellectuals both liberal and conservative" -- also have "tiptoed around the problem."

He proposed that "some public-spirited sugar daddy ... sponsor a short book" that would invite six think tanks, three liberal and three conservative, to discuss the issue. Such a book "would force think tanks to compete," he wrote, adding, "They'd have to make their vision of the future explicit within the untidy framework of government's past commitments. It would illuminate the connections between defense spending, retirement benefits, health care, economic growth and much more" (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 8/1). Summaries of responses appear below.
Robert Bixby, Concord Coalition: "Think tanks are not political parties," Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, writes, adding, "They are a collection of scholars who do not necessarily agree on specifics. Thus the absence of a competition among them on specific plans does not, as Samuelson implies, indicate venal motives." Bixby concludes, "The problem is not timid think tanks. It is timid politicians" (Bixby, Washington Post, 8/8).
Stuart Butler, Heritage Foundation: "Another book-length compendium of detailed plans, as Samuelson proposes, would do nothing to resolve" U.S residents' "emotional and contradictory feelings about entitlements and intergenerational obligation," Butler, vice president for domestic and economic policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, writes. He concludes, "That's why leading think tanks are focused on understanding and changing public perceptions about the values and risks involved in controlling entitlements, to improve the climate for political debate," adding, "That's why {The Brookings Institution] and Heritage have joined others in talking directly to real Americans and why we are working to structure public dialogues to explore ways to craft serious reform" (Butler, Washington Post, 8/8).
Maya MacGuineas, New America Foundation: "Samuelson suggests that think tanks aren't proposing specific solutions to the demographic and budgetary crises facing the country. As the recipient of more than my fair share of angry e-mails from people who haven't appreciated some of the specifics our think tank has recommended, I would respectfully disagree," MacGuineas, fiscal policy program director at the New America Foundation, writes. She continues, "Samuelson is right, of course, that one of the important roles of a think tank is to provide bold policy solutions to help move the political discussion forward. That is what the New America Foundation has been doing for years" (MacGuineas, Washington Post, 8/8).
Additional responses from think tank officials are available online as a part of the Post's regular Think Tank Town, which features such organizations debating public policy.

Reprinted with kind permission from kaisernetwork. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork/dailyreports/healthpolicy. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2005 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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