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Great Ideas

Great Ideas

By Matt Robison
America faces challenges. But we’ve also got smart people who spend every day coming up with great ideas for how to meet those challenges. That's what this show is all about. Washington's top policy experts from across the ideological spectrum – the people that our leaders listen to – explain how an issue or a policy works, and then share their newest, most innovative ideas for making it work better. No shouting. No crossfire. Just ideas. Great ideas. Excerpts available in collaboration with
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How to Fight the Most “Persistent and Lethal” Threat in America
When people think of violent extremists, they tend to think groups like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, or other international terrorist organizations. But the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has actually called white supremacist extremists“the most persistent and lethal threat” here in America. In fact, those groups perpetrated two thirds of the attacks and plots in the US in 2019 and over 90 percent in the first 6 months of 2020. To address this issue, the Center for American Progress and the McCain Institute for International Leadership have developed a comprehensive national strategy for tackling  white supremacist violence. It’s a bipartisan plan based on consensus policies that unite our political parties. Our guest Simon Clark is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and he walks us through how to fight this threat.
May 12, 2021
The Most Important Thing that American Government Does
What if I told you that in the last sixty years, the US government invented the modern world. It’s not really a stretch to say. Federally-funded scientific research and development led directly to the Internet, fiber optics, superconducting materials, LED lights, water purification, wireless technologies, lasers, bioengineered medicines, solar power, MRIs, GPS, satellites, weather forecasting, and every health treatment based on our genes. And that’s a short list. Economists say that half of our economic growth comes from these kinds of technological advances…and those technological advances mostly have their roots in US government-backed science.  But over time, our investment in federally funded scientific research and development has fallen by more than half.  Ben Ritz is the Director of the Progressive Policy Institute’s Center for Funding America’s Future, which develops policy proposals to strengthen public investments in the foundation of our economy.  We talk about some of the amazing stories of how we ended up with the world around us through US government-funded science, and how we can reclaim our edge.  Photo by on Unsplash
May 6, 2021
Can "Devolution" Fix Our Broken American Politics?
This episode is about something called “devolution” -- handing off more responsibilities from the federal government to states and localities.  But…it’s really about something more profound. It’s about the entire state of our country, the nastiness and anger in our politics and public discourse. And about whether we can figure out a smarter way to work together, get more done, and lower the temperature. Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, argues that the way to get Washington to do better is to have it do shrink down the number of arguments we have between people from different places and political cultures by not having them in the first place. It's a conservative philosophy, but one that is motivated by a genuine interest in trying to improve our government and our politics. Not sure you like this idea? Take a listen and hear him might at least come away thinking a little differently about what role of the federal government ought to be, and whether we can all have a good faith conversation about it.  Photo by Louis Renaudineau on Unsplash
April 29, 2021
Can Unions Be Saved? And Does It Matter?
The share of workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement is down to 1 in 8, less than half of where it was 40 years ago. Recently, Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama decided not to form a union in what many analysts described as a historic vote, and a blow to the labor movement, especially after President Biden voiced support for the union drive. The episode points to a bigger question in the American economy and society: where is the union movement, and after years of decline, does it have a future? And more broadly, does it matter? Our guest today says that we should all pay close attention to these questions…because labor unions are still relevant, even essential to American workers. But he also says that unions are badly flawed and in need of major and rapid reforms. David Madland is a senior fellow and the senior adviser to the American Worker Project at Center for American Progress. He’s been called “one of the nation’s wisest young scholars” by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. And he’s written called Re-Union – How Bold Labor Reforms Can Repair, Revitalize, and Reunite the United States.
April 21, 2021
What IS Infrastructure? And When Should the Federal Government Invest in It?
What does it mean to invest in infrastructure? President Biden has proposed a multi trillion dollar bill that has prompted a lot of questions that are surprisingly basic...and yet surprisingly hard to answer. What is an economic investment? What is infrastructure? And what is the role of government to invest in the kinds of things that could help us in the future? Tori Gorman is the Policy Director for The Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to educating the public about the relationship between how the federal government spends money and the consequences for the future.  She says it's time to update how we think about infrastructure, and start thinking in terms of investments that will make our economy and our workers more productive in the future. That doesn’t mean she thinks all of President Biden’s infrastructure bill qualifies though...or is even a good idea. Photo by Modestas Urbonas on Unsplash
April 14, 2021
Is there sneaky good news on climate?
We’ve all heard the bad news.  The planet is heating up at breakneck speed. Unless we reach zero net carbon emissions by 2050, we are in for a world of hurt. But Lindsey Walter, a Climate and Energy expert at the think tank Third Way, says that if you look closely at all the numbers there’s a lot of good news that gets buried. There's major economic opportunity especially in the Midwest states.  And the total cost of the transition is affordable.  A look at what net zero emissions means, what the numbers say about our future, and why that future could be brighter than we think. Photo by Karsten Würth on Unsplash
April 7, 2021
We’re Thinking About the Minimum Wage All Wrong
The debate about raising the minimum wage is full of misconceptions -- myths that lead to a lot more partisan fighting than there needs to be. For example, a celebrated Republican pollster found that 80% of business executives actually support raising it. Dr. Sarah Jane Glynn, an expert in employment, work, and family issues at the Center for American Progress, says that we if we started talking about the reality of the minimum wage instead of the myths, we would get to consensus a lot faster. In this episode, Dr. Glynn explains the realities of the minimum wage, and a smarter way to talk about it based on those realities.  Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash
March 31, 2021
What's Actually in the Federal Budget?
*BONUS EPISODE THIS WEEK* There are hundreds of federal agencies and departments, thousands of federal programs, millions of pages of federal regulation.  And it's all controlled by the federal budget. It’s the central plan of American government.  And it’s incredible how many misconceptions there are about it. For example, how much do we spend on foreign aid every year? How much do we actually spend on defense? What about political footballs like food stamps, or Social Security? If the budget is our plan, what’s in it?  And if our plan has some giant problems in it, how do we start to fix them? Bob Bixby Executive Director of The Concord Coalition, takes us through it step by step, and then explains how we can start to get a better handle on controlling the budget.  Photo by StellrWeb on Unsplash
March 25, 2021
The Debt: How Much is It Really, and What Can We Do About It?
Over the course of 2020 the federal government spent a MASSIVE amount trying to deal with the economic fallout of the pandemic. Republicans and Democrats agreed that in the face of crisis, America needed to put the fire out first, worry about all the water they were using later. But in 2021, people are beginning to worry about how much that all adds up to on top of the existing federal debt. Republicans say it’s a looming problem, Democrats say that’s just an excuse to oppose their priorities. So who’s right?  Our expert Brian Riedl explains the situation we're in, and where we go from here.  Riedl is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, who previously worked for six years as chief economist to Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and was the lead architect of the ten-year deficit-reduction plan for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
March 24, 2021
Norm Ornstein: How to Fix the Filibuster Without Breaking Congress
Many experts argue that the modern filibuster has ruined Congress: it allows a small minority to run roughshod over the majority, and stops important things that the American people need and want. Others say that even with its flaws, getting rid of the filibuster could be dangerous and even destructive. Norman Ornstein is one of the nation's leading experts on American government.  He explains what's going on and more important, how we might make it better without causing a Congressional meltdown.
March 17, 2021
Climate: Hope and Progress in the States
There may be no more complicated policy topic than global warming. Researchers say that global temperatures will continue to rise for centuries, no matter what we do today…and prospects for getting things done in Congress are not that bright. But climate policy expert Sam Ricketts says there is a lot of important action outside federal government that is making a big difference, and that should give us all reason to hope. Photo by Thijs Stoop on Unsplash
March 10, 2021
Americans are getting robbed blind: can we stop it?
Michael Garcia, a cybersecurity expert at Third Way, says that at least one in four Americans have been directly impacted by cybercrime, and law enforcement only acts on 0.3% of cases. Our top levels of government are under attack, as are our cities, schools, hospitals, and private citizens.  There are some big things that our country can do and needs to do in order to put a stop to it.
March 3, 2021
Reconcilation: what it is, and why it needs to stop
The Senate is about to use a trick called “reconciliation” to pass Joe Biden’s Covid relief bill. It's the way we've passed all kinds of policies from the Trump tax cuts to portions of Obamacare. And many want to keep using it to pass all kinds of policies that would never otherwise make it through the Senate's filibuster - things like a rise in the minimum wage, climate policies, and infrastructure investments.  But Tori Gorman, a budget expert at the Concord Coalition, says that might be a big mistake. She explains how reconciliation really works, and why it's in everyone's best interests for it to go away.
February 24, 2021
Why We Need to Hear Great Ideas from All Perspectives
In this episode of the show Politics Pulse, Great Ideas host Matt Robison sits down with Sarah Jones, the Editor-in-Chief of, to talk about how the Great Ideas show came about, why they both feel it is so important to explore serious, positive ideas for change, how the show and website are planning to collaborate, and why it's so important to hear constructive ideas from across the ideological spectrum -- even the ones you don't agree with.
February 16, 2021
Health Care: Three Compromises That Could Help Millions of Americans
Over the course of the last decade, the US has undertaken a massive experiment in remaking the way we pay for people’s health care -- the Affordable Care Act. It’s had some real successes, as well as a number of shortcomings: we've cut the number of uninsured in half, but we're still struggling to cover 30 million Americans and to control spiraling costs in the system.  Everyone wants to expand coverage and control those costs, they just can’t agree on how to get there. Our guest says there is a way to make progress that Republicans and Democrats can agree on. Three ways actually. Health care expert Jim Capretta explains how the ACA works, and how to make these three relatively simple changes that could improve costs and coverage for millions. Written excerpts also available on
February 15, 2021
Great Ideas Trailer
America faces challenges. But we’ve also got smart people who spend every day coming up with great ideas for how to meet those challenges. That's what this show is all about. Washington's top policy experts from across the ideological spectrum – the people that our leaders listen to – explain how an issue or a policy works, and then share their newest, most innovative ideas for making it work better.  No shouting. No crossfire.  Just ideas.  Great ideas. Subscribe to the Great Ideas podcast wherever you get your podcasts
February 5, 2021