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

Ten Things to Watch in the Health-Care Reform Conference

It's not just about abortion and the public option. Every decision Congress faces while merging the Senate and House health bills will give it the opportunity to make reform better.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, accompanied by Sens. Tom Harkin and Barbara Mikulski, speaks during a health care news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Schoolhouse Rock undersold the excruciating difficulty involved in making a bill a law. As the health-care reform process nears its merciful end, many important questions must still be decided, most of which have received only passing attention by the media. If you only watch television news, you might think that the conferees tasked with merging the House and Senate bills really only need to work out the public option and the abortion provisions. The truth, though, is that those matters are pretty much settled. There will be no public option, and the Senate's incredibly restrictive language on abortion will probably win out over the appallingly restrictive House version. There are oodles of provisions in both bills, but here is a quick guide to what else we should watch out for as the conference committee does its work. How these questions are settled will help determine just how good this reform will end up being: Funding: This may be the stickiest difference between the two bills...

The Health-Care Ultimatum

Some progressives have called health-care reform without a public option worthless. Here's why they're wrong.

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., talks with reporters following the announcement that he will support the health-care bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
There is a classic economics experiment called the "ultimatum game," which demonstrates how our decision-making process isn't solely determined by rational calculations. In the experiment, one subject is usually given a small sum of money and told to divide it however he wants between himself and another subject. If the second subject accepts his offer, they both keep the cash. But if the second subject rejects the offer, neither of them gets anything. Rationality suggests that the second subject should accept any offer, since even $1 is better than nothing. But in practice, offers that are perceived as unfair (like 80-20) get rejected most of the time, while offers near a 50-50 split tend to be accepted. Our perception of fairness is so finely tuned that even in the context of an experiment, where nothing more than a few dollars are at stake, we will give up a potential gain -- in order to punish a person who has acted unjustly, or simply to make a statement about the standard of...

The Exchanges, the Mandate, and the Opt-Out.

I’ll be saying more about this in my column on Tuesday, but as this new uprising among progressives like Howard Dean , Markos Moulitsas , and Keith Olbermann against the health-care bill has emerged, much of the fire has been directed at the individual mandate, the requirement for everyone to be insured. This often takes the form of “people are going to be forced to buy crappy insurance from evil insurance companies, and they won’t have a public option.” While the last part is true, and the second part (about the companies being evil) is basically true, there are elements to the first part that haven’t been addressed enough. Let’s remember that those who will get coverage but are now uninsured will come in a couple of flavors. If their incomes are low enough, they’ll be able to enroll in Medicaid (government health insurance!). Some of them are young people, who if they’re under 26 in the Senate version or 27 in the House version, will be able to stay on their parents’ insurance. The...

A Eulogy for the Public Option?

If health-care reform is to be a true progressive victory, there has to be room for future improvement.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., talks to reporters after leaving a Democratic caucus outside of the Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009.(AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
The debate over health-care reform has been many things. It has been an education in both the intricacies of public policy and the ease with which fears can be activated and deception accomplished. It has been a dispiriting exercise in the limits and pathologies of American politics. And it has been a clash of values. Because progressives think government can actually solve problems, they tend to have at least a partially technocratic view of policy. At least in theory, it should be possible to analyze a problem, assess various solutions to it, select the one most likely to solve it, and then implement that solution. Yet so often in our country, this self-evidently sensible approach ends up feeling like an unattainable ideal. In the course of this process, we've discovered -- if there was any doubt before -- just how deep conservatives' hatred of government runs, from the grass roots all the way to members of Congress. It's not just that right-wingers are suspicious of government or...

The Spending Wars

Wars cost money. They shouldn't be fought like they're free.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wisc. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
When Rep. David Obey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, recently proposed a surtax that would pay for the Afghanistan War, the collective response from most of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle was, "Are you nuts?" Nancy Pelosi quickly put the kibosh on Obey's "Share the Sacrifice Act," and all talk of funding the war has been banished. Meanwhile, Democrats have spent untold hours debating how to finance health-care reform, all while Republicans carp about how doing so is just too darn expensive, what with our ever-climbing deficit. We've become used to this contradiction in Washington. Wars just need to be fought; the defense budget just needs to keep growing; and we don't really care what it costs. The idea that we might ask each other to pay for war through our taxes is so ridiculous as to barely merit discussion. Domestic initiatives meant to improve Americans' lives, on the other hand, are deeply offensive to any notion of responsibility unless every penny is...