Mark Schmitt

Mark Schmitt is director of the program on political reform at the New America Foundation and former executive editor of The American Prospect

 

 

Recent Articles

Letting the People In

People want their voices heard in the making of policy. But how do politicians figure out which ones to listen to?

Dan Thompson, 51, of Canton, Mich., during Congressman John D. Dingell's town hall meeting in Romulus, Mich. on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Kimberly P. Mitchell)
The images of 83-year-old Rep. John Dingell, in his sixth decade in Congress, jeered and shouted down at a town meeting on health care last week brought to mind a long-forgotten episode that, when I went to work on Capitol Hill in the summer of 1990, seemed to loom over everything. It was often referred to by a single word: "Catastrophic." Two years earlier, in 1988, Congress had passed, by overwhelming bipartisan majorities, what was then the largest expansion of Medicare to cover catastrophic illness, long hospital stays, and some pharmaceutical costs. In 1989, by equally large majorities, Congress repealed the law. The bill had put most of the cost on a small group of wealthy seniors, and after passage, a a direct-mail organization stoked backlash over the funding structure, convincing many seniors they would pay the same $800 surtax as the wealthiest. It is remembered today mostly for the televised scene of Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, then chair of the House Ways and Means Committee...

THE HEALTH-REFORM RECONCILIATION FANTASY.

That health care reform might be passed without the involvement of any Republican senators is an irresistibly tempting thought. Who needs 'em? Unfortunately, the possibility of that happening is but an illusion. To get all 60 Democratic votes in the Senate puts one at the mercy of the two or three most conservative and disruptive Democrats ( Ben Nelson , Mary Landrieu et. al.) who are in their own ways more difficult than the two or three most cooperative Republicans. And those Democrats will be a lot more comfortable if there are at least two or three Republicans providing them with cover. As a result, health reform is much more likely to get either 64 votes or 56 than to hover on the cusp of 60. I know what you're thinking: What about reconciliation? Budget reconciliation bills are subject to strict time limits on debate, so 40 Senators cannot stand in the way. If Nelson and/or Olympia Snowe stand in the way of a good bill getting 60 votes, the door has been kept open to move some...

THE CONGRESSIONAL POLITICS OFFICE.

The “New Blow to Health Plan” that was delivered over the weekend by the Congressional Budget Office illustrates the unusually powerful role that the CBO plays in determining the range of possibilities for reform, but also a little-understood fact about the CBO: It's judgments are often guesses about probabilities, and they are often guessing about political, not economic, probabilities. The CBO determined that a proposal to give more power to an independent group that recommends Medicare payment levels, similar to the existing group called MedPAC , would produce only modest budget savings ($2 billion), and further, that “the probability is high that no savings would be realized.” How does it reach that judgment: “The estimated savings of $2 billion over the 2016–2019 period reflect CBO’s assessment of the likely scope of the proposals that the council would make and the probability that its recommendations would be implemented by the President.” “The probability that its...

HEALTH REFORM AND THE TWO-TIER WORK FORCE.

My friend and colleague from the New America Foundation, Michael Lind , has a provocative article in Salon on health reform -- well, the headline is provocative ("More Raw Deal than New Deal"), but the substance is actually a thoughtful and somewhat complicated journey through his own evolving thinking about health reform since he and Ted Halstead pushed an individual mandate to buy insurance in their 2001 book, The Radical Center. The core of Lind's argument is that from the point of view of his preference for a "citizen-based social contract" (meaning only that benefits belong to the individual, rather than being contingent on employment or complicated eligibility), he now prefers a mandate on employers to provide insurance to the mandate on individuals to obtain it. The Obama plan, he says, is evolving toward "pay or play ... the status quo, modified slightly by a baffling Rube Goldberg scheme for covering the uninsured," not the kind of uniform benefit characteristic of New Deal...

"NO COOKBOOK": PROGRESSIVES RECLAIM THE CONSTITUTION.

Do liberals have a coherent theory about the Constitution? A few years ago, this would be the question hanging in the air at the end of a Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Conservatives had their claim to a theory – call it “originalism,” “textualism,” “judges should interpret the law, not make it,” or Chief Justice Roberts ' “judge as umpire.” Liberals could call out the contradictions in these slogans, but it wasn't clear where they stood themselves. As Yale law professors Robert Post and Reva Siegel wrote in 2007, “progressives have grown confused and uncertain. They speak timidly of 'super-precedents' or minimalism, but they are unable to advance any robust theory of constitutional interpretation.” Few liberals were willing to defend the loose “living Constitution” theories of the Warren Court era, but nothing positive had taken its place. That year Doug Kendall , who know runs the Constitutional Accountability Center here and is an occasional TAP contributor , put forward the...

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