Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is a contributing editor for the Prospect and the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

Recent Articles

Saving Private Health Insurance.

To hear Republicans talk these days, the individual insurance mandate contained within the Affordable Care Act is an act of socialist tyranny so horrific that just thinking about it is almost enough to make blood pour from your ears, which is bad, because some government bureaucrat might say you can't get care for bleeding ears. To take one of many examples, Ron Johnson , the novice politician who defeated Russ Feingold to win a Senate seat from Wisconsin, called , the ACA "the greatest assault on our freedom in my lifetime." This, about an idea that originated with Republicans who wanted to make sure the American health-care system stayed as private as possible. As Ezra Klein reminds us , that's kind of the whole point of the individual mandate. In a single-payer system where the government is providing insurance to everyone, you don't have to insist that everyone get coverage, because everyone is covered automatically. It's only in a private system that you need to push people to...

Some Tax Context.

As we move toward some kind of resolution of the tax debate, I thought it might be worthwhile to put some things in context, particularly the question of the top marginal tax rate. That's the one conservatives are so desperate to keep low, and part of the reason liberals in Congress are rebelling against the compromise reached by President Obama and Mitch McConnell . The American income tax was established via the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in 1913. Since then, the top rate has varied, but it has been falling pretty much since World War II. Let's look at a chart: In 1944 and 1945, the top rate was an astounding 94 percent. Throughout the 1970s it was 70 percent. For most of the 1980s it was 50 percent. Today it's at 35 percent, and if there is no deal and the Bush tax cuts expire, it will rise back to 39.6 percent, where it was after Bill Clinton raised it in 1993. But that's not all the story. The income level at which the top rate kicks in has varied...

A New Tax Debate

For Democrats to win on this issue, they need to propose substantive reforms -- not just battle over the existing Bush tax cuts.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at a news conference following two votes on tax cuts during a rare Saturday session of the U.S. Senate on Capitol Hill earlier this month (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
When Barack Obama took office two years ago, four far-reaching problems stood above all others he had to face: the free-falling economy, the war in Iraq, the health-care crisis, and the threat of global climate change. If he could make real progress on those four, his presidency could stand among those of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan as the most consequential of the last hundred years, no matter what else he did or didn't do. So far, the record on these grand priorities is mixed. The economy is recovering, but far too slowly; we are no longer fighting in Iraq, but Afghanistan has shown itself to be even more of a quagmire; Obama did pass historic health-care reform; and action on climate change has effectively been shelved. But as Obama looks toward the second half of his first term, there is another way for him to do something historic: reform the American tax system. It's an enormously complex challenge, both substantively and politically. We haven't had a...

The Health-Care Overture.

Right now, the legal machinations regarding the Affordable Care Act are kind of like the overture you hear before a musical starts. It's a little preview of the different songs to come, but it isn't really the show itself. So today, Judge Henry Hudson ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, in contrast to a series of other judges in other jurisdictions who have found the opposite. Should you be worried? Well yeah, but not because of this ruling. Hudson was hearing the case because Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli did some judge-shopping and decided to file his suit against the ACA with a judge he predicted would be sure to rule against it. Hudson was a good bet, since he's been a prominent Republican for some time and was appointed by George W. Bush . But Hudson didn't go as far as he could have -- he ruled against Cuccinelli's request to suspend all work on implementing the ACA while the case is being appealed. That means officials in the Department of Health...

Tough Votes.

One of legislators' favorite strategic moves is to force their opponents into "tough" votes, whereby in order to get what they want they have to vote for something really unpopular or against something really popular. The idea is that since these legislators (particularly those in the House, who have to run every two years) are motivated largely by fear, they will knuckle under as visions of attack ads dance in their heads. Sometimes this works, and sometimes the opponents forge ahead anyway. And sometimes those "tough" votes do indeed get used in attack ads -- a good recent example was Sharron Angle 's ad accusing Harry Reid of wanting to give Viagra to child molesters. But that didn't seem to work. And this past week, Democrats tried to pass a seemingly bullet-proof piece of legislation, providing assistance to 9/11 first responders sickened by the dust and debris they were exposed to at ground zero, but Senate Republicans managed to successfully filibuster it. You'd think they'd be...

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