When Bad Policy Makes Good Politics: Running the Numbers on Health Reform (Studies in Postwar American Political Development)
Author: Robert Saldin
Since the 1960s, America's policymaking system has transitioned from one in which leaders like Lyndon Johnson could simply disparage the concept of budget projections to one in which policymakers consciously manipulate cost estimates. Paradoxically, the very safeguards put in place to thwart economically unsound legislation now cause chaos by incentivizing the development of flawed, even blatantly unworkable, policies. As Robert Saldin shows in When Bad Policy Makes Good Politics, the pathologies of the new system are illustrated by the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act and its role in aiding passage of President Obama's landmark health reform law. CLASS was supposed to bring much needed relief of America's dysfunctional long-term care system, but critics argued that its flawed design rendered the program unviable.
Publisher: Oxford University PressLink to Purchase Publication
Office: Liberal Arts 354
Mondays 10-11 (via Zoom until further notice) and by apppointment
I am the Director of The Mansfield Center's Ethics and Public Affairs Program and a Professor of Political Science. My most recent book is Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites (Oxford University Press, 2020), co-authored with Steven Teles. I am also the author of When Bad Policy Makes Good Politics: Running the Numbers on Health Reform (Oxford University Press, 2017) and War, the American State, and Politics since 1898 (Cambridge University Press, 2011). My scholarly articles have appeared in academic journals such as The Journal of Politics, Political Science Quarterly, Journal of Policy History, Political Research Quarterly, and Presidential Studies Quarterly. I've also written extensively for the popular press, including The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, National Affairs, Washington Monthly, and The American Interest. Previously, I was a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar at Harvard University, the Patrick Henry Scholar at Johns Hopkins University, a Fellow at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, and a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies.
Recent pieces include “Gone Country: Why Democrats Need to Play in Rural America, and How They Can Do It Again," Niskanen Center, with Kal Munis, March 2020.
Ph.D., University of Virginia, 2008; B.A., Davidson College, 2000
“Gone Country: Why Democrats Need to Play in Rural America, and How They Can Do It Again,” Niskanen Center, with B. Kal Munis, March 2021.
Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites (Oxford University Press, 2020), with Steven Teles.
"The Future is Faction,” National Affairs, with Steven Teles, Fall 2020.
“Don’t Blame Never Trumpers for the Left’s Defeat,” The New Republic, with Steven Teles, Aug. 7, 2020.
“Our Takeaways from the Salvatori Center Symposium,” Joint Niskanen Center/Salvatori Center Symposium on Never Trump, with co-author Steven Teles and contributors Megan McArdle, Johnathan Rauch, George Thomas, and David Karol, Aug. 3, 2020.
“The Never Trumpers’ Next Move,” The Atlantic, with Steven Teles, May 2020.
“These Conservatives Knew Trump Would Be a Disaster in a Crisis,” New York Times, with Steven Teles, March 20, 2020.
"The Future is Faction," Niskanen Center, with Steven Teles, Dec. 2019.
When Bad Policy Makes Good Politics (Oxford University Press, 2017).
"[An] important new book...There are at least two distinctly profitable ways of reading (and teaching) Saldin’s book. First, the book’s focus on the minutiae of the legislative process—the role of committees, budgetary forecasting, the reconciliation process, and parliamentary rulings, for example—make the book useful for teaching congressional procedure in a way that standard approaches rarely capture...Second, Saldin’s book is essential reading for those seeking to understand the historical and procedural contexts within which health care policy, in
particular, is made...When policymakers return to the question of long-term care—and they will, because they must, especially in an aging United States—Saldin’s book should be one of their first stops." - Daniel Skinner, Political Science Quarterly, 2018
"Rob Saldin has written the kind of book that I wish I had authored, the kind that is an instant 'classic'....Saldin's most important contribution is to provide a broad understanding of American politics, from the inner-workings of committees in Congress, to Congressional members' relationships with each other and advocates, to the machinations of the executive branch...It does what many books and articles cannot -- explain not only how advocacy groups or Congressional committees or executive agencies work, but how they work in relation to one another, and why." - Patricia Strach, The Forum, 2018
"Saldin's policy tracing is first-rate and is a core strength of [the book]...Saldin's attentive and thorough contribution improves our understanding of how budget politics are ubiquitous and likely to produce counterintuitive and counterproductive public policy." - Glenn Beamer and Tyler M. Gibbons, Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, June 2018
"Lovely...strongly institutionalist, focusing on the impact of institutions and legislative design...[An] interesting and important contribution to answering the question of why American public policy is so very complex, with implications for scholarly research as well as for political action." - Scott Greer, Perspectives on Politics, June 2018
"Solid scholarship and clear, jargon-free writing. Summing Up: Highly recommended." - R.E. O'Connor, Choice, July 2017
"As it made its way through Congress in 2009 and 2010, the Affordable Care Act basically took shape through a long series of back-and-forth adjustments between the relevant committees and the Congressional Budget Office, intended to tweak the coverage and cost scores of the bill to accord with the idiosyncrasies of CBO’s modeling. Some forms of this gaming were cynical and reckless — the foremost example must be the CLASS ACT, a long-term-care program known from the start to be completely unsustainable, which was included in the bill purely to manipulate its cost score and then abandoned before it actually took effect. But almost every facet of the legislative design of Obamacare was a product of this kind of back and forth, so that the law in some respects was built to achieve a certain result in CBO’s model even more than in the world outside it. (On this subject, I’d highly recommend political scientist Robert Saldin’s recent book When Bad Policy Makes Good Politics: Running the Numbers on Health Reform.)" - Yuval Levin, National Review, June 2, 2017
"In When Bad Policy Makes Good Politics, University of Montana political scientist Robert P. Saldin makes the case that CLASS was a crucial part of why Obamacare made it through Congress despite the fact that just about everyone knew it was completely unworkable....Obamacare’s champions were hardly alone in working the CBO process to make expensive policies look cheap. Saldin cites the Bush tax cuts as a sterling example of how this particular game is played....There are lessons in all of this for policymakers whether they’re on the left or the right.... The fault here lies not with the CBO, which does the best it can with its narrowly circumscribed role. It’s with all of us, on the left and right, who fixate on making the numbers look good and pay little heed to how a policy is actually going to work." - Reihan Salam, Slate, March 15, 2017
"A remarkable book that illuminates how government really works. Saldin guides us through the Congressional wonderland: Shrewd legislators organize a much needed reform that 'scores' well in the all important budget analysis and, as a result, enables the entire Obamacare proposal--even though everyone knows it cannot possibly work. Along the way we learn about Congress, health care, policy, liberals, conservatives, Washington, DC, and America itself. Fascinating, elegant, important and highly recommended." - James A. Morone, Brown
"Come for the story of long-term care reform, stay for the critique of CBO scoring! Saldin makes a provocative argument about the incentives for politically viable if economically unviable policymaking encouraged by the budget process reforms of the 1970s. Not all will agree, but all will learn a lot from this absorbing account of the CLASS Act and the contemporary policy process." - Andrea Louise Campbell, MIT
"Every student of health policy or disability should read When Bad Policy Makes Good Politics, the best account of the CLASS Act's implosion, a tragic, oddly overlooked, episode in the history of health reform." - Harold Pollack, University of Chicago
"The Schism Between Reagan and the Modern GOP," Washington Monthly, Aug. 3, 2017.
“Why Presidents Sometimes Do Not Use Intelligence Information,” Political Science Quartery, with Patrick S. Roberts, 131:4 (Winter 2016 - 2017).
"Trump and the Intelligence Community: The Costs of Ignoring Intelligence," The American Interest, with Patrick S. Roberts, Jan. 31, 2017.
"Meet the Trump Appointee Liberals Might Not Hate," The Washington Post, Dec. 16, 2016.
War, the American State, and Politics since 1898 (Cambridge University Press, 2011; paperback, 2013).
"Saldin's work is a smart and fresh look at a key topic. It is rich with interesting information. It places wars at the center of American political development. From Manila Bay through Vietnam, the wars have fed into politics and policymaking in lasting ways. The implications for understanding our current era are clear and important." - David Mayhew, Yale
"War, the American State, and Politics since 1898 is an essential corrective to the notion that all politics is domestic. Paying close attention to the institutional state, to democratic rights, and to partisan politicking, Rob Saldin instead finds the tendrils of foreign combat absolutely everywhere." - Byron Shafer, University of Wisconsin
"It has long since become an accepted truism that 'war made the state,' as Charles Tilly famously remarked. Scholars of comparative politics are not surprised by this assertion, and have devoted much attention to understanding this important relationship. Yet the study of American politics is just beginning to grapple with its implications, both for state building and political development more broadly. A good place to start is this ambitious, well-written book by Robert Saldin, a successful effort that helps us better understand the impact that wars had on the American political system in the twentieth century....[His] linkage of international events to domestic developments is quite illuminating for those interested in [American political development], as well as those who study foreign policy....Saldin has written an important book that should be read widely." - William D. Adler, Perspectives on Politics
"Saldin sheds new light on transformations in American state building during war....Students of international and domestic politics will find this book valuable in showing how international variables affect domestic outcomes." - Sean Kay, Political Science Quarterly
"War and democracy have been linked since the Peloponnesian War, and the modern state's ability to make war has been inextricably linked to its ability to incorporate large numbers of citizens as taxpayers and especially as soldiers. Robert Saldin's new book offers an important account of these dynamics in the context of American political development, and it is an account that surely warrants serious attention from students of American democracy. And of democratization more generally." - Jeffrey C. Isaac, Indiana University
“Foreign Policy on the Homefront: War and the Development of the American Welfare State,” in Warfare and Welfare: Military Conflict and Welfare State Development in Western Countries, Herbert Obinger, Klaus Petersen, and Peter Starke, eds., Oxford University Press.
“Ignoring the Not-So-Obvious in Obama’s Negotiations with Iran,” The Hill, with Patrick S. Roberts, July 16, 2015.
“Not Such a CLASS Act: America’s Long-Term Care Problem,” The Forum (Spring 2015).
"Gaming the CBO," National Affairs (Fall 2014).
“What War’s Good For: Minority Rights Expansions in American Political Development” in New Directions in American Politics, Raymond La Raja, editor (Routledge, 2013).
“Strange Bedfellows: War and Minority Rights,” World Affairs (March/April 2011).
“William McKinley and the Rhetorical Presidency,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 41:1 (2011).
"Healthcare Reform: A Prescription for the 2010 Republican Landslide?" The Forum 8:4 (2010).
"Foreign Affairs and Party Ideology: The Case of Democrats and World War II," Journal of Policy History 22:4 (2010).
"World War I and the 'System of 1896,'" Journal of Politics 72:3 (2010).
"Foreign Affairs and the 2008 Election," The Forum 6:4 (2008).
“American State Building in the Post-9/11 and Iraq Era,” PS: Political Science and Politics 41:1 (2008).
Harvard University. Fellow. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholars Program. 2010 – 2012.
Johns Hopkins University. Patrick Henry Postdoctoral Fellowship. Departments of Political Science and History. 2007 – 2008.
Miller Center of Public Affairs. Fellow. Governing America in a Global Era Program. 2006 – 2007.
University of California, Berkeley. Visiting Scholar. Institute of Governmental Studies. 2005 – 2007.