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

Don't Fear the Fiscal Reapers

A bipartisan commission to reduce the long-term deficit could be a disaster -- but not if it's done right.

For those of us who had a reasonably close view of the early months of the Clinton administration, certain parallels to the current political situation are eerie. One is this: The price of a landmark domestic accomplishment seems to involve turning next to the federal deficit, particularly reducing spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security -- aka "entitlements." In order to obtain the 50th vote on his 1993 budget reconciliation bill -- which created new programs such as direct student loans, and realigned federal spending and tax policy toward progressive goals -- President Bill Clinton had to promise the quixotic, self-important Democratic senator Bob Kerrey that he would create a commission on entitlement spending. Today the pressure comes from Blue Dog Democrats in the House, Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad, and the enormously well-funded advocacy infrastructure constructed to warn about deficits, with the Peter G. Peterson Foundation at its center. They argue...

Corporate Speak

The Supreme Court might be on the verge of overturning the very foundation of campaign-finance law. But even if it doesn't, the old model has to change.

David Bossie, leader of Citizens United and producer of "Hillary: The Movie," is seen in his office in Washington on March 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
There aren't too many Supreme Court cases that can be called "truly momentous" even before they are decided. But when the Court asked to rehear the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in a rare preterm session this fall, it became clear that, even though the case itself is minor, the Court might use it as the opportunity to make a big change in the law regarding money in politics. But as week after week passes without a decision, the community of campaign-finance reformers becomes ever more anxious that some of their most basic assumptions about what's constitutional and what isn't will be wiped out. The case involves a video called Hillary: The Movie produced last year by the right-wing attack group Citizens United and broadcast through on-demand cable channels around the time of the Democratic primaries. The Federal Election Commission found the film violated the provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (BCRA, aka McCain-Feingold) that require...

When Did the Senate Get So Bad?

Over at Talking Points Memo , a friendly argument has broken out between a former Senate staffer and a political scientist over what might be called the problem of the Senate . That's the kind of fight I have to jump into! In summary, the two viewpoints on filibusters are: (1) Something changed in the culture of the Senate, and filibusters used to be rare, mostly threatened by individual senators or factions who wanted some change to a bill rather than to block it completely. (2) It's a much more structural change, and in the past there were often large bipartisan majorities that wanted to pass major legislation, so the filibuster wasn't even an issue. (With the notable exception of civil rights.) Both are probably right: In terms of culture and custom, the turning point was almost certainly the previous health-reform debate, in 1993 and 1994. That's when Bob Dole , then the majority leader, made the phrase "You need 60 votes to do anything around here" his mantra, and when -- thanks...

Changing the Tone

Most citizens want to be heard, but we can't let an angry minority speak for them.

Benjamin Beachler, 3, sits in his stroller holding his sign as his parents and hundreds of tea party tax protesters gather outside of the Federal building in Anchorage, Alaska.(AP Photo/Al Grillo)
Of all the aspirations set out by the newly inaugurated Obama administration one year ago, the promise to reduce the level of acrimony in American political life is the one that has most plainly gone unfulfilled. And that's not surprising -- it's always risky to make a promise that depends on someone else cooperating. To induce failure in Barack Obama's central promise, all conservatives needed to do was to stir up acrimony, which isn't very hard. While this is not a period like the late 1960s where the country seems hopelessly divided, the white-hot fury of the minority exceeds anything from the left during the Bush years. The right-wingers who claim to feel, as Rep. Michele Bachmann puts it, that we are "losing our country" seem to be, if anything, overrepresented among mainstream elected Republicans, including perhaps dozens of members of Congress. Many on the left are happy to see Obama's promise broken, because they think it should never have been made in the first place. They...

Another Good Word, Ruined.

Here in Washington, certain words don't seem to mean what they mean elsewhere. I remember some years ago, Christopher Hitchens pointing out that the word "perception" generally means insight or understanding. But in Washington, it means something false, as in "perception is reality," or "the perception of George W. Bush as a heroic president." Ezra Klein noted a similar reversal a few months ago: In the external world, "reconciliation" means a peaceful reunification, as in the end of a family feud. But in Washington, the word represents "the most divisive thing you could do." To that list, add the word "conscience." When Joe Lieberman tells Fox News, "If the public option plan is in there, as a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote," he not only threatens the legislation, he strips a great word of all meaning. While there may be different views on a public option, or a public option with a trigger or a public option with an opt-out, none of them are...