Robert Kuttner

Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, a professor at Brandeis University's Heller School, and a distinguished senior fellow of the think tank Demos. He was a longtime columnist for Business Week and continues to write columns in The Boston Globe. He is the author of Obama's Challenge and other books.

Recent Articles

Comment: Budget with Care

I recently proposed that instead of getting rid of what the Bush people call the death tax we abolish the "pre-death tax." This term, coined by my friend Michael Lipsky, refers to the Medicaid provision that requires people to spend down their personal assets on nursing-home care before Medicaid starts paying the cost. Medicaid is a means-tested program for poor people. The premise of current policy is that middle-class people who need long-term care must first impoverish themselves and then qualify for Medicaid as medical paupers. The exemption on the estate tax, currently $675,000, will rise to $1 million by the year 2006 under existing law. That's why it's a tax on only the wealthiest 2 percent of estates. But the Medicaid spend-down has no such exemption. Public policy takes away almost every nickel; and God help you if you somehow come out of the nursing home and then have to make ends meet. By one of those splendid coincidences, middle-class Americans "spend down" about $30...

Vigilance Needed as Cold War II Grips U.S.

Recently, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman christened the war aganst terrorism World War III. But that's too apocalyptic. A better name would be Cold War II. The first Cold War was ''a prolonged twilight struggle,'' in George Kennan's famous phrase. It was punctuated with periods of hot war, in Korea and in Vietnam. But for the most part it lived up to its name - an uneasy armed peace with jittery alerts, cloak and dagger operations, and proxy skirmishes between client states. The first Cold War also had its benefits. It stimulated myriad technological advances. Government was allowed to do things in the name of fighting the Soviets that many Americans might otherwise not have approved. These included a massive interstate highway program, the National Defense Highway Act, a federal program to promote higher education, the National Defense Education Act, as well as advances in public health and civil rights. If we were fighting a global enemy that preached brotherhood, it...

Bush's Troubling Medicare Plan

George W. Bush has at last revealed the outline of his Medicare/drug benefit plan. One is reminded of Anatole France's famous line that "the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges." Governor Bush's plan allows the poor as well as the rich to choose to pay high premiums for prescription drug coverage (or to choose instead, say, to eat). What Bush's plan does not do is to guarantee basic drug coverage to everybody. Gore's doesn't quite achieve that either, but it comes a lot closer and does so without dismantling Medicare. Bush's drug plan is wrapped in a fundamental privatization of Medicare, which would turn most of the program over to managed-care companies. He depicts this as free choice for consumers, versus the more bureaucratic approach sponsored by Gore and the Democrats. But what Bush calls bureaucratic actually equals free choice, and what he calls private equals limited choices. In the...

What We Can Learn When a Tragic Case Defies our Stereotypes

Something Beyond the obvious tragedy troubled me about the case of Peter Bos, the 31-year-old Jamaica Plain father who left his infant to perish in his car instead of taking her to day care. That something, I realize, is the role of class. The community reaction was appropriately appalled but surprisingly compassionate: Those poor people. How could he have just left the baby in the car? How can he live with himself? Will the mother ever forgive him? What harried lives we all lead! The press coverage was subdued and respectful. The district attorney has chosen to go slow, waiting for the autopsy report before deciding whether to take any other action. No child protection agents are snooping around, investigating the parents' suitability or threatening to take away their other child. The story has pretty much dropped from the papers, and there is general respect for this family's terrible grief. Some of this, it pains me to say, has to do with the...

Body Politics

P resident Bush insisted that we could afford both a tax cut and the shoring up of Social Security. He was dead wrong. So the Democrats could hardly pick a better set of galvanizing issues. But as Robert Borosage points out in "The Austerity Trap" (see page 13), many Democrats are taking surplus-worship to such an extreme that they are in danger of losing their raison d'être as a party. This odd condition reflects a collision of two trends. First, the Republicans are genuinely vulnerable on the tax cut and on Social Security. But second, conservative Democrats are determined to expunge the Democrats' legacy as the party of "tax and spend." The trouble is, the Democrats' signature programs are nothing if not tax and spend. Social Security raises trillions of dollars in payroll taxes and spends the money on secure retirement. Medicare, likewise, is tax and spend. So is public education. As a party, you can't make your centerpiece the defense of Social Security and Medicare, much less...

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