Working for lasting change

CBPP president Sharon Parrott
Courtesy the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The new president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a left-leaning think tank focused on reducing poverty and inequality, is taking the reins at a time when those issues are also at the forefront for President Biden and the Democratic-majority Congress.

“It is a moment where there is a willingness as a country to take action and to recognize that we need to take action not only to address the current crisis, both the health and economic crisis, but that we have really long-standing, important problems in our country that need addressing,” Sharon Parrott said in an interview with The Hill last week.

Among those persistent challenges Parrott and the CBPP want to address in long-lasting ways: poverty, racial and ethnic disparities and millions of people lacking health insurance.

“The Center works on issues that can make just an enormous difference in the lives of people who struggle to make ends meet. And so trying to push and advance policies that broaden opportunity, that address racial inequities and that help struggling families is an enormous responsibility that we take very, very seriously,” she said. “I’m incredibly proud to get to lead the organization and its work.”

Biden last month signed Democrats’ $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which Parrott called “a very important first step.”

“I think it sets a new standard for how we respond to crises,” she said.

But Parrott also pointed out that many of the policies in the relief package are temporary and that longer-term solutions are needed.

Biden, who has also unveiled a wide-ranging $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan, is expected later this year to release a proposal focused on issues including health care and child care, and the CBPP is working on priorities that it hopes will be included in that package.

One of their top hopes is to make permanent the one-year expansions of the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit in Biden’s relief package.

“By themselves, those policies both reduce child poverty by 40 percent, close racial disparities in child poverty and provide really important help to people in low-paid jobs that don’t have children at home,” Parrott said. “And so, making those expansions permanent is a really important step.”

Another top priority for an economic-recovery package is to make health care more affordable by building on the temporary expansions of ObamaCare subsidies included in Biden’s relief law.

“I think later this year we have a real opportunity to take a bigger, permanent, long-lasting step forward to really get us far closer to universal coverage,” Parrott said.

Additional CBPP priorities for future legislation include reforming the unemployment insurance system and helping more families to get rental assistance.

“We think President Biden, when he was candidate Biden, had really, really far-reaching and important proposals in the housing area, including a proposal to get housing vouchers ultimately to all households that qualify for rental assistance,” Parrott said.

The CBPP is supportive of the corporate tax increases that Biden has proposed to pay for his infrastructure proposal, and it also backs higher taxes on wealthy individuals, which the president is expected to propose to pay for his second recovery package later this year.

“We have got to start marching down a path that creates a revenue system that’s more equitable, that’s more sustainable and is more responsible, that generates the revenues we need for the investments that not only drive growth, but broaden opportunity,” Parrott said.

She said that corporations and the wealthy should be paying more in taxes because they benefit greatly from public investments in areas such as research, education and infrastructure.

“Profitable corporations benefit tremendously from being in the United States, from the rules of the road of the U.S. economy and from public investments,” she said. “And given that level of benefit that they get, they need to contribute more adequately to those investments.”

Biden on Friday also released a $1.5 trillion budget for fiscal 2022 that proposes boosting nondefense discretionary spending by 16 percent. Parrott was positive about the budget request, saying in a statement that it “proposes critical investments to strengthen education and science, protect the environment, expand housing assistance, rebuild basic government functions such as the administration of the Social Security and revenue systems and civil rights enforcement, and build a stronger and more equitable economy.”

Parrott, 51, became president of the CBPP in January after having worked at the organization on-and-off for nearly 30 years. She succeeds Robert Greenstein, who founded the think tank in 1981.

She first came to the group in 1993, after earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan. She’s held several roles within the organization since and served as its senior vice president for federal policy and program development just prior to becoming its president.

Cecilia Muñoz, who served as director of the Domestic Policy Council during the Obama administration, called Parrott “brilliant” and said she is committed to ensuring that the U.S. helps those in need.

“I couldn’t be more excited to learn that she’s serving as president of the Center on Budget,” she said. “At a time when we face so many challenges as a country, we need her leadership.”

Parrott also served two stints in the Obama administration. During the former president’s first term, she worked as a counselor to then-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on human services policy. Toward the end of President Obama’s time in office, she worked at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), serving as associate director of the education, income maintenance and labor division.

Parrott also worked at Washington, D.C.’s Department of Human Services in 1999 and 2000.

The CBPP includes multiple other Obama administration alumni, and several senior employees have left the organization in recent months to work in the Biden administration.

They include Jared Bernstein, who serves on the Council of Economic Advisers; Stacy Dean, who is now a deputy under secretary at the Agriculture Department; Peggy Bailey, who is now a senior adviser to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge on rental-assistance issues; and Aviva Aron-Dine, who is now executive associate director at OMB.

“I really do think that one of the ways that the Center contributes is by developing real leaders in these important program and policy areas, and then they go on to do sometimes wonderful things outside the Center, including going into the administration,” Parrott said. “I think it’s great for the country.”

Tags Jared Bernstein Joe Biden Kathleen Sebelius Marcia Fudge

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