Department of Housing and Urban Development

It’s been hard to pin down how Mitt Romney proposes to balance the federal budget even as he slashes tax rates across the board, as he now proposes to do after coming under conservative fire early in primary season for tax-cutting timidity.

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The clichéd phrase “debate season” is inescapable. There was a Republican debate on CNBC Wednesday night. Tomorrow will see another shootout, this one down in South Carolina. But these events seem to have won few fans. They are being mocked and denounced by everyone from Bill O’Reilly to MSNBC contributors.

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Urban Outfitter

The past decade has seen the spread of a faith concentrated in the country’s more progressive-minded cities: the religion of smart growth. Its adherents are planners, environmentalists, and builders who believe development should be focused in existing communities rather than sprawling into the countryside. For them, good development is “infill,” “new urbanist,” and “transit-oriented,” and bad development is “greenfield,” “car-dependent,” and “half-acre lots.” They loathe cul-de-sacs and love light rail.

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The Republican Party has never been confused with a nonprofit charity, but it was not so long ago that elements of the GOP enjoyed displaying a little human tenderness. Jack Kemp, the former football star and vice presidential nominee, is probably best known for his supply-side philosophy, but as a Congressman and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, he brought what The New York Times said was “more zeal to America's poverty problems than any national politician since Robert Kennedy.” Then there was George W. Bush.

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With all the hullabaloo surrounding Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell and Joe Miller during the midterms, it was easy to lose track of some equally conservative, but less flamboyant, candidates. And it seems safe to say that no Tea Partier had more success while garnering less national attention than Mike Lee. While running for Senate, the 39-year-old Utah Republican proposed dismantling the Department of Education and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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Reducing or eliminating the home-mortgage tax deduction is one of those reforms that economists across the political spectrum agree on, but politicians across the political spectrum flee from.

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In Washington, it’s the season for many things—spring flowers, baseball, political speech (always in season), and House and Senate appropriations subcommittees delving into the minutiae of the president’s proposed $3.7 trillion budget for FY2011. Scattered among the nooks and crannies of this massive document are the plans for the multiple agencies in the nation’s decentralized statistical system.

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Stimulus as Policy Lab

One way to assess the $787 billion federal recovery package—which last month had its one-year anniversary—is the conventional way: as timely, short-term stimulus. And on that point—though the package gets no respect—the consensus among economists is pretty complete, as I recently noted. The stimulus has preserved or created 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs to date.

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Last week we noticed the spread into multiple federal agency budgets of FY 2011 program proposals aimed at supporting regional industry clusters--the geographic concentrations of interconnected firms and supporting organizations that play such an important role in enhancing regional economic performance. Yet that is just one spreading governance "meme" on display in the Obama administration's second budget.

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For many, what makes a neighborhood or a community a great place to live is a mix of people, activities, and physical forms. Quality places are those neighborhoods and communities that have a range of housing types, so that people who live in small households or on tight budgets aren’t excluded; many transportation options, so that cars are a convenience, but not a necessity; and houses, stores, and offices interspersed and within easy reach of each other, again so that daily life doesn’t require getting behind the wheel.  Public policies, from local decisions about zoning codes to national

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