The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) was formed in 1981 to analyze federal budget issues, focusing largely on how budget decisions affect Americans with low incomes. The group pursues “federal and state policies designed both to reduce poverty and inequality and to restore fiscal responsibility in equitable and effective ways.”
The work of the group has broadened over the years, particularly when it expanded to work on low-income programs and budget priorities at the state level in the 1990s as the federal government shifted more responsibility over low-income policy to the states. CBPP collaborates there with nonprofits, particularly with the more than 40 members of the State Priorities Partnership, which CBPP coordinates. The State Priorities Partnership states its goal is “reducing inequality and fighting poverty by making sure states have the resources they need through an accountable budget process.”
The group is widely regarded as being aligned with progressive and liberal positions. David Callahan of Inside Philanthropy once wrote, “No think tank commands more respect among liberal policy wonks and Capitol Hill Democrats than the D.C-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.” The organization receives financial support from progressive foundations and labor unions.
CBPP bills itself as nonpartisan, but a look at the center’s stance on issues indicates a left-of-center view. In 2011, the Daily Signal argued the group skewered statistics to benefit liberal talking points. While a chart from CBPP claimed the next decade’s deficits were the result of two recent tax cuts, the recession, bailouts, wars, and the economic stimulus, Daily Signal argued that CBPP’s “methodology fails statistics 101.”
Megan McArdle, then of The Atlantic, needled CBPP as well, calling the charts a “dog-whistle where we pick out the programs we don’t like and show that without them, things wouldn’t be so bad!” The publication noted CBPP labeled a large section of the deficit as “Bush-Era Tax Cuts” when, in reality, the effect of those cuts would be much smaller.
CBPP was a major contributor to and supporter of President Barack Obama’s healthcare plan. “As the principal organization focused both on extending coverage to the uninsured and finding ways to pay for health reform, the Center helped shape many of the laws’ provisions,” the website Guidestar reported.
CBPP opposed the George W. Bush administration’s tax cuts in 2001, but later worked to make sure more low-income families could take advantage of the expanded child-care tax credit. CBPP also opposed President Bill Clinton’s efforts to enact bipartisan welfare reform, predicting 1 million Americans would become impoverished. The predictions largely did not come to pass, and poverty rates fell after the law’s enactment.
CBPP has tangled with right-leaning American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), arguing that ALEC’s annual “Rich States, Poor States” report on state-by-state economic freedom pushes policies that benefit businesses and investors at the expense of middle- and lower-income earners. ALEC countered that the economic opportunity offered by low-tax and limited-government policies better enables those earners to find good jobs or open their own businesses. “In numerous studies, the consensus of academic experts shows that economic opportunity is best advanced by a competitive tax policy and an efficient government that provides core public services — not a high-tax, ever-growing government,” ALEC wrote in its criticism of CBPP.
Robert Greenstein founded CBPP in 1981 and serves as its president. He previously served as administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture under Democratic President Jimmy Carter. That service operates such federal food assistance programs as food stamps and school lunch programs.
Greenstein helped form the Food Stamp Act of 1977, which is often considered the Carter administration’s top anti-poverty achievement. That act eliminated a requirement that participants purchase the stamps, established a uniform national standard for eligibility, and expanded the program to more minority communities.
Clinton appointed Greenstein to serve on the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform in 1994. Greenstein also led the federal budget policy component on President Obama’s transition team following his election as president.
Greenstein received a total compensation package of $220,752 from the organization in 2014.
David de Ferranti serves as the president of the board of directors. He founded the Results for Development Institute in 2008, a group that works with partners in more than 55 countries to combat poverty. He worked under Greenstein at FNS, serving as associate administrator and director of policy, planning, and evaluation. He also spent 25 years at World Bank, serving as the bank’s regional vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean for several years.
As a 501(c)3, CBPP is not required to reveal its donors, but reports reveal some of those who give to the organization. That includes a document leak in 2014 that showed the Democracy Alliance, which coordinates grants for nearly 100 progressive organizations, contributes to CBPP.
CBPP reports granting money to a wide variety of state-based organizations supporting the progressive cause, including the American Immigration Council, California Budget Project, Kansas Action for Children, and Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
CBPP reported $49,753,529 in revenue on its IRS Form 990 in 2014, and expenses totaling $30,948,012.
On its IRS Form 990 in 2016, CBPP reported $51,393,953 in revenue and expenses totaling $28,721,352.