Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is the Prospect's daily blogger and senior writer. He also blogs for the Plum Line at the Washington Post, and is the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

Recent Articles

The Oddly Unpopular Estate Tax.

In a former life I used to write polls as part of my job, and at one point, we decided to do a small test on the estate tax. The unpopularity of the tax is something of a mystery, since it's paid by only the richest heirs. As Kevin Drum says , "Polls routinely show that a substantial majority of people favor higher income taxes on the rich. But polls also show that a substantial majority of people favor repeal or reduction of the estate tax." At the time (this was back in 2000), I thought it might have to do with a misconception, namely that lots of people assumed that everyone who inherits anything has to pay the estate tax. So we did an experiment in a survey where we asked two versions of the question, one of which asked whether people thought the tax should be repealed, and the other of which explained that the tax was only paid by people who inherited a million dollars or more (or whatever the exemption was back then), then asked whether people thought it should be repealed. The...

Why Romney Needs Palin.

As we all know, Mitt Romney 's biggest problem in the 2012 Republican primaries is that conservatives don't trust him, given that he used to be a pro-choice moderate who got health coverage for Massachusetts' uninsured. His answer to this problem has been to run frantically to the right, staking out the most extreme position he can on any issue that comes up (his latest is an attack on lazy unemployed people). But the truth is this strategy is going to fail. What Mitt needs to understand is that voters don't make judgments based on checklists. If a true-blue conservative wants to choose his primary candidate based on ideological affinity, all the screamingly right-wing op-eds in the world won't make a difference. It's a feeling, an identification, a sense that the candidate is "one of us." And Mitt just ain't. He's going to have to find some other way to win them over. That isn't to say ideology doesn't matter -- Romney will have to convince them that he's conservative enough, passing...

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...

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