Paul Starr

Paul Starr is co-founder and co-editor of the The American Prospect. and professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and the Bancroft Prize in American history, he is the author of seven books, including most recently Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle over Heath Care Reform (Yale University Press, revised ed. 2013). Click here to read more about Starr.

Recent Articles

Obama Year One

Obama was right to take on a wide range of tough problems, and no one should be shocked at the obstacles in his path.

(White House/Pete Souza)
As Barack Obama ends his first year in office, there is much talk about disillusionment with the president among progressives. The litany of complaints is obvious: unemployment still at 10 percent, economic policies unduly favorable to Wall Street, the surge in Afghanistan, compromises on health care, the failure to close down Guantánamo, and a general inability to bring about the transformative change that Obama spoke of during his campaign. Policy has certainly not moved as fast or as far as many of us would like. But perhaps because I never shared the political fantasies about Obama in the first place, I don't feel let down, and I don't think other liberals should. No president was about to turn the country around on a dime -- the structure of our government doesn't allow it. And anyone who paid attention to what Obama said as a candidate about specific matters of policy would have realized he wasn't the lefty some imagined and others feared. It is a myth, as the historian David...

Deal or Die on Health Care

Why progressives should support a Democratic compromise.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, Monday, Dec. 14, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
The moment of decision on health-care reform is arriving for progressives in Congress. Some of them have insisted they will refuse to vote for any bill without a public option, and that is now the only bill that has any chance of passing. If they hold to their position, the most significant social reform on behalf of low-income Americans in 40 years will go down to defeat. It should hardly be surprising that we have come to this point. The requirement for 60 votes in the Senate to pass ordinary legislation was always going to empower the most conservative members of the Democratic caucus or the few moderate Republicans who might support a bill. For a while this past week, it seemed as though a provision to allow 55- to 64 year-olds to buy in to Medicare might provide an acceptable alternative to the public option and secure the 60th vote for the bill. But when both Joe Lieberman and Olympia Snowe said they wouldn't support a Medicare buy-in, that hope dissolved. None of this, however...

Averting a Health-Care Backlash

Create a political safety-valve: let people opt out of the mandate. Just don't let them opt back in at will.

A Senate staffer passes out paperwork prior to a health care news conference. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
No provision of the health-care reforms being debated in Congress is as likely to generate a popular backlash as is the individual mandate -- the requirement that individuals purchase health insurance if they are not otherwise covered. But there is an alternative to the mandate as it is currently structured that can accomplish the same purpose without raising as much opposition. The bills in Congress would impose a fine on people who decline to buy coverage after the system is reformed, unless they have a religious objection to medical care or demonstrate that paying for insurance would be a financial hardship even with the new subsidies being provided. Under the Senate bill, the fines per person would begin at $95 in 2014, rising to $750 two years later. The House bill sets the penalty at 2.5 percent of adjusted income above the threshold for filing income taxes, up to the cost of the average national premium. The trouble with the fines is that they communicate the wrong message...

Faster, Please

Democrats in Congress should focus on enacting job
measures and health reforms that show voters immediate progress.

(Flickr/White House)
The continuing rise in the unemployment rate, up to 10.2 percent in November, has to give a sense of urgency to Democrats in Congress and the administration about the work they have at hand before next fall's elections. In 2010 Republicans are looking to repeat the success they had in 1994 after Bill Clinton's first two years, and if Democrats do not produce results soon, Barack Obama may suffer the same kind of midterm reversal as Clinton did. The one good thing for the Democrats about the risk of losing control of Congress next fall is that, as Samuel Johnson said about the prospect of a hanging, it concentrates the mind. And it ought to concentrate congressional minds in two areas where the pressure is greatest to match promise with performance -- the economy and health care. It is now clear, as it should have been earlier, that the stimulus package passed in February was too small for this severe a recession and that more needs to be done to generate immediate growth in jobs. The...

Bipartisanship in One Party

The Democratic health-reform proposals are built around ideas Republicans used to favor.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
As the debate over health reform enters its decisive stage, there is a lot of talk about the need for compromise between Democrats and Republicans. That was a sensible point to make in years past when Republicans offered alternatives for reform to compete with Democratic proposals. But this year there are two problems with the idea of bipartisan compromise. The first is that Republicans in Congress have not even made a pretense of offering constructive alternatives. The second is that the Democratic proposals are built around the ideas that Republicans used to favor -- those proposals already are bipartisan compromises. Unfortunately, they are compromises with a Republican Party that no longer exists. In the late 1940s, when Harry Truman proposed legislation for national health insurance (what today would be called a single-payer plan), a group of Republicans including Congressmen Richard Nixon and Jacob Javits advocated a system of government--subsidized, private nonprofit insurance...