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

The Peterson Foundation Responds.

Before the holidays, I wrote a column, " Don't Fear the Fiscal Reapers ," arguing that a commission to address the long-term fiscal crisis need not be the disaster that many progressives fear -- an excuse for massive cuts in Social Security and Medicare -- but could actually do some good, including providing cover for the increases in revenues that we desperately need. The article drew a letter to the editor from David Walker , the former U.S. comptroller general who now runs the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, one of the principal advocates for such a commission. It didn't seem that Walker was disagreeing with anything in the article, but was concerned that it "might be misinterpreted" to suggest that the Peterson Foundation places a priority on cuts in entitlement spending. To the contrary, Walker says, everything has to be "on the table," including "more revenues." As I noted in the article, this is an important shift in tone and priority for the deficit-hawks, and further reason...

On Chris Dodd.

If I were a more autocratic boss, Tim Fernholz would be having a very bad day for his rather sanguine reaction to the news that Sen. Chris Dodd is retiring. Yes, Tim, it is a bad, and sad thing -- unless one's only interest is in "freeing up resources for other races" at the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. I have one indelible memory of Dodd: In the hours before the giant welfare reform bill passed in 1996, I found Dodd huddled in a corner off the Senate floor cajoling Orrin Hatch (successfully) to agree to more funding for child care. And I remember thinking that while the rest of us liberal staffers were preparing our 24 bosses to wax eloquently about how tragic the bill would be for poor families, and vote an emphatic No, here was someone who was going to do all that, and yet was also determined to find a way to make it less bad, to squeeze some benefit out of it. In those moments, he was very much in the Ted Kennedy mold. At some moments, he was even more effective than...

Victory at What Cost?

The Senate's passage of health reform is a great step forward but reveals how difficult future legislative victories, and governing, will be for Obama.

Sen. Max Baucus and Sen. Harry Reid, Dec. 24, 2009. (AP Photo/Mannul Balce Ceneta)
"The most troublesome task of a reform president," Henry Adams wrote in his autobiography, is "to bring the Senate back to decency." President Barack Obama did not accomplish that task this year, far from it. But what he and other Democrats did accomplish this morning is something that eluded every reform president before him and is, in a sense, all the greater an accomplishment for the fact that the institution -- not just the Senate itself but the Washington culture that surrounds it -- was at its most indecent. Every major policy victory, even though it creates momentum and potentially strengthens the president who leads it, inevitably comes with a cost. The cost may be an expenditure of political capital, a political concession due in the future, a sacrifice of a constituency, a compromise on some other policy, or a compromise within the policy itself. It's hard not to feel in one's gut that this victory came at a considerable price. But it's also hard to put one's finger on...

Machinery of Progress

It's not just about the president. His successes and failures are tests of the progressive infrastructure.

(White House/Pete Souza)
What President Barack Obama needs to do is .... No, let's try this again. The problem with Barack Obama is .... Stop! I can't bear to read another column that starts like that, much less write one. As the administration's first year in office comes to an end, the most distinctive thing about it is the degree to which people who should long ago have outgrown Great Man theories of history remain transfixed by a single individual. Every success is interpreted as a measure of Obama's skills and priorities; every disappointment is read as a revelation of his excess caution, naiveté, or other flaws. No doubt the president is one of the most compelling figures in American political history, perhaps more interesting as a person than any occupant of the White House since his moral opposite, Richard Nixon. His combination of political skill, intellect, discipline, confidence, and command of language is unprecedented, and his theory of politics, which brought with it the first actual...

When Good Things Happen to Mediocre Legislation

We're so prepared for bills to get worse as they grind through Congress that it's a shock when they sometimes get a lot better.

The very word "progressive" implies a linear view of social progress. We try to move forward, the bad guys try to take us backward. So it's not surprising that progressives have an equally straight-line assumption about what happens in legislative negotiations. We try to set the most ambitious goal possible, assuming that in the congressional process, things are likely to get steadily worse. Like labor negotiators, we try to go in with the strongest starting position, and at the end, decide whether the final result has gotten so bad that we'd rather have nothing. But often negotiations don't take such a straight-line path.. Last week's late-night developments on the health care reform bill were a reminder that sometimes, instead of getting steadily worse, legislation can take a strange hop in a much better direction. Senate negotiations on health reform were grinding in a predictable downward direction -- as wavering Democrats met, the public option had already been trimmed to a...