The Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) was established in 1989 as the think tank of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a now-defunct organization whose objective was to “modernize the progressive tradition in American politics for the 21st century.” Since its founding, PPI has been committed to a nominally centrist “Third Way” philosophy that embraces a conception of socialism which emphasizes the need for a large social-welfare apparatus, greater economic egalitarianism, and a rejection of capitalism’s supposedly inequitable elements, but does not endorse the traditional Marxian call for a total abolition of free markets. During the collapse of the Soviet Empire shortly after PPI’s creation, Mikhail Gorbachev promoted this so-called “Third Way” as a system wherein: (a) Big Business would own the economy (as under capitalism), (b) Big Government would run the economy (as under socialism), and (c) corporations would be persuaded to comply with government directives through subsidies, tax breaks, customized legislation, and other special privileges. PPI, for its part, views the “Third Way” as a means of advancing “radically pragmatic ideas for moving America beyond ideological and partisan deadlock.”
After the 1992 presidential election, PPI gained notoriety as “the intellectual home of New Democrats” and as “Bill Clinton’s idea mill.” PPI founder Will Marshall III, who also co-founded DLC, has been PPI’s president since its inception. Marshall co-edited the 1992 book Mandate for Change, a policy blueprint for President Clinton’s first term in office. Notably, Clinton in his 1998 State of the Union address lauded the “Third Way” concept as one that had “moved past the sterile debate between those who say government is the enemy and those who say government is the answer.”
In November 2012, PPI characterized the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Obamacare) as “an essential step towards a high-growth economy” that would “unleas[h] the creative juices of Americans.”
In July 2013, PPI warned that Congressional failure to pass “comprehensive immigration reform” — a measure that would provide a path-to-citizenship for the millions of illegal aliens residing in the U.S. — would likely “do serious collateral damage to the housing recovery.” “Most economists believe that bringing 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows would be a boon to the economy,” said PPI, “and boost tax revenues in the bargain. It could also put as many as three million legalized immigrants in the market for a home.”
In July 2015, PPI president Will Marshall stated that the landmark nuclear agreement between the United States, Iran, and five other world powers represented not only “a victory for collective security,” but also “a major diplomatic achievement for President Obama and his two Secretaries of State: Hillary Clinton and especially the indefatigable John Kerry.” By Marshall’s telling, the deal “moves Iran back from the nuclear threshold.”
Reasoning from the premise that the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with human industrial activity contribute heavily to what PPI calls “the mounting risks posed by climate change,” the Institute lauded the 2015 Paris Climate Accord for delivering “unprecedented commitments by virtually every country on the planet to reduce their [respective] emissions.” In November 2016, however, PPI lamented that “the election of Donald J. Trump, an avowed global warming skeptic, has thrown America’s commitment to global leadership [on climate change] in doubt.” Reversing the policies of the Obama administration, said the Institute, “would be a tragic mistake with incalculable consequences for the entire planet.”
In October 2017, PPI stated that the Democratic Party’s recent calls for “free” (i.e., taxpayer-funded) college tuition did not do enough to promote the goal of “helping more Americans achieve economic mobility and security.” “[T]he single-minded focus on college,” the Institute explained, “diminishes other, equally viable paths to middle-class security — such as in health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing and other skilled professions — that require specialized occupational ‘credentials’ but no four-year degree.”
In November 2017, PPI president Will Marshall derided President Trump and Congressional Republicans for their “full throttle” effort to “ram” a “partisan” and “budget-busting” tax-reduction bill into law. What the U.S. economy needed most, said Marshall, was not a tax cut, but rather, “public investment in modern infrastructure.” Asserting, further, that “average working families finally are beginning to reap the gains of the long economic expansion that started under President Obama,” Marshall claimed that “Republicans are fighting the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.” “Tax cuts,” he elaborated, “may make sense when the economy is slowing down and needs a jolt. But with healthy business profits, a surging stock market and tight labor markets pushing up wages, there’s little need now for a dose of fiscal stimulus.” Marshall also criticized the Trump administration and Republicans for having “wasted most of 2017 trying to kill Obamacare.”
Lindsay Mark Lewis, former national finance director of the Democratic National Committee, has been PPI’s executive director since 2010.
PPI receives relatively little direct foundation sponsorship. It’s leading benefactor has been the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which contributes to a variety of both left-wing and conservative foundations. Additional funding for PPI has come from the AT&T Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the BP Foundation, and the Eastman Kodak Charitable Trust.