The Congressional Research Service recently issued a report on the development of high-speed rail (HSR) in the United States. Most federal funding has either supported upgrading existing rail lines in one of five major corridors, or the new construction of California’s HSR project to link San Francisco and Los Angeles. While the Obama administration supported HSR in the 2009 stimulus act and budget proposals, the report sees lack of long-term funding as a significant obstacle to HSR projects.
Lawmakers continue to debate the costs and benefits of investment in the U.S. rail network, with high-speed rail a key issue. This CFR Backgrounder summarizes the historical development of freight and passenger rail as well as policy concerns.
Infrastructure. Read more on how upgrading the nation’s aging network of roads, bridges, airports, railways, and water systems is essential to maintaining U.S. competitiveness.
International Trade and Investment
The Case for Corporate Diplomacy
Alexander Benard writes in Foreign Affairs that the United States should do more to promote business interests overseas. He argues that other nations—particularly China—have been more effective at securing opportunities around the globe. While many emerging economies (e.g. China, Brazil, India and Russia) support powerful state-owned companies, even European nations are far more aggressive than the United States in advocating for commercial interests. Growing unease over Beijing’s influence may create an opening for Washington to improve its outreach.
This CFR Independent Task Force report encourages the Obama administration and Congress to adopt a “pro-America” trade policy that brings to more Americans the benefits of global engagement.
Come and Find Your Land of Dreams
The Travel Promotion Act of 2010 established Brand USA, a public-private partnership to promote the United States as a tourist destination. The Economist discusses its efforts, including a promotional video released in May. While the United States is the second most-visited country, its share of travel spending declined between 2000 and 2010 from 17.2 to 11.6 percent. Had this market share not declined, analysts calculated that over this period, the United States would have notched an additional 67 million visits and $214 billion in tourist revenue.
CFR Senior Fellow and Renewing America Director Edward Alden discusses the difficult visa process that foreign tourists face, recent improvements made for Chinese and Brazilians, and important next steps.
International trade and investment. Read more from leading analysts on the debate over next steps in U.S. trade policy.
CERN Scientists May Have Discovered Higgs Boson
Researchers from CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, announced the detection of a new particle in the energy range of the long sought for Higgs Boson (NYT). Finding the Higgs Boson—theorized to imbue particles with mass—has been a top priority of physicists for decades. The Higgs Boson could have been found decades ago had the U.S. Congress not cancelled funding for building the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) in Texas in 1993 (Bloomberg). SSC was to be a particle accelerator more powerful than CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, which opened in 2009.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, noted astrophysicist and director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, discussed the economic imperative to expand scientific frontiers through efforts such as space exploration in an essay and interview with Foreign Affairs.
Silicon Valley, Denver, Dallas and Detroit Get Patent Offices
The U.S. Patent Office is opening up four satellite offices in an effort to cut its backlog of 640,000 applications (Bloomberg). Sites were spread across four time zones and were chosen based on their local expertise, such as Silicon Valley’s preeminence in electronics and biotechnology, and Dallas’ strengths in energy. Denver expects to receive a $440 million economic boost in the first five years the office is open.
Should the United States adopt a “patent box” tax incentive as several European countries have done in recent years in order to spur innovation? This Policy Initiative Spotlight by Jonathan Masters examines the issue alongside a more conventional policy, the research and development tax credit.
Innovation. Read more on how the U.S. capacity to innovate could play a chief role in economic growth.
Debt and Deficits
Stockton’s Path to Bankruptcy
Last week Stockton, California, became the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy; its city manager cited a 1996 decision to give firefighters full healthcare in retirement as the root of the fiscal crisis (Reuters). Stockton opted to provide healthcare to retirees rather than raising pay for firefighters and other city workers. The booming stock and real estate markets of the 1990s made this plan seem feasible and further concessions to city unions were made, which ultimately proved too expensive to fulfill.
North Carolina’s Local Government Commission (LGC) was the subject of a recent Policy Initiative Spotlight by Steven J. Markovich. While Stockton, CA, and Harrisburg, PA, default on bonds, the LGC has kept North Carolina’s municipalities free of defaults since 1942.
Debt and deficits. Read more from experts on the challenges in reducing U.S. debt.
The Morning Brief is compiled by Renewing America contributor Steven J. Markovich.