Public Service Innovators — The View From the Center: Maya MacGuineas (MPP '97)

March 22, 2004
Molly Lanzarotta

Maya MacGuineas (MPP '97) is in one of the most challenging positions in Washington D.C. – the middle. In a city where the term "nonpartisan" can seem a non sequitur, MacGuineas puts policy issues front and – literally – center.
MacGuineas is executive director of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget at the New America Foundation where she runs the Fiscal Policy Program and co-directs the Retirement Security Program. She is also co-founder and chair of Centrists.Org, a nonpartisan think tank providing centrist policy makers with policy recommendations.
"Washington is very divided between Republicans and Democrats, but if you want to influence policy, you need bipartisan support," MacGuineas said recently. "Working with members of both parties and trying to get them to work together is the way it should be done, rather than fighting each other."
Focusing on three intertwined topics – responsible budgeting, entitlement reform, and tax reform – MacGuineas's day is filled with research and writing about policy ideas, meeting with members of Congress and their staff, giving speeches, and testifying on the hill.
On the issues, MacGuineas doesn't avoid touchy subjects such as social security. "The payroll tax too often ends up funneling the wages of middle- and working-class Americans to affluent retirees," MacGuineas wrote in the January 2004 issue of Atlantic Monthly. She promotes eliminating the payroll tax and replacing it with a "progressive consumption tax."
"We have become accustomed to thinking that taxes, like hemlines, can only go up or down," MacGuineas stated in the Atlantic article. "This isn't true." Her goal is to fundamentally reform the tax code to achieve three critical results: simplification, economic growth, and equitable tax burdens. Her plan would tax citizens not on what they earn but only on what they spend. This system would encourage saving and investment and discourage what she calls "our debt-consumption economy."
"Does this idea have a chance?" MacGuineas asked in a recent Boston Globe article. "That depends. Taxes will certainly be central to the upcoming presidential election. So far none of the contenders is delivering a particularly compelling message on the topic."
Before her work with the New America Foundation, MacGuineas served as a Social Security advisor to the McCain for President campaign. She has also worked at the Brookings Institution, the Concord Coalition and on Wall Street. Working for McCain was especially inspiring to MacGuineas. "He was willing to tell hard truths, which is what my job is about. But it's much harder for a politician to do that than me."

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