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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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Could "Approval Voting" Fix the Biggest Problem in American Elections?
Today, we cover the system we use for determining the winner of an election. It has as much impact on our current political dysfunction -- including lack of trust in elections -- as any other factor. Many scholars contend that if we could get the system right, we could fundamentally improve faith in our democracy and lower the chances of a complete meltdown (which are uncomfortably high). One of those experts is Aaron Hamlin, the Executive Director of the Center for Election Science. He’s been featured as an electoral systems expert on MSNBC, NPR, and many other outlets, and he not only believes that better election systems using alternative voting methods would be better for America, but he also has a particular favorite to suggest.  Approval voting" is a system that fewer people have heard about than Ranked Choice Voting, but it may deliver many of the same benefits while being simpler, easier to understand, and better for restoring trust in the system.
May 19, 2022
Not Just Abortion: The Broad and Lasting Implications of the Draft SCOTUS Ruling
America is still reeling from the landmark, albeit draft, opinion that was leaked from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, holding that the 50 year precedent of Roe V. Wade is no longer going to be valid constitutional law in America. There are obviously deep ramifications for the issue of abortion, but there are also implications that extend well beyond the question of a woman's right to choose, and that impact all kinds of economic, social, and legal questions for the future of how we live and work in America. Elyssa Spitzer is a policy analyst for the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress. She’s served as a clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and now also serves as the senior fellow in law and neuroscience with the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School and the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior.
May 12, 2022
Men and Women Are Increasingly Living In Two Different Worlds
The idea that men and women are different is baked into our culture, from rhymes about sugar and spice and all things nice to the notion that we are from entirely different planets - Mars and Venus in particular. A new study from the Survey Center on American Life suggests that the differences between men and women - in the ways they live their lives, spend their time, interact with each other, and engage in politics - are actually growing. This isn’t just about men and women migrating to different political parties, it is about an increasing divide in the mental worlds that we inhabit in America. One of the authors of that study is Daniel Cox, the Director of the Center on American Life at the American Enterprise Institute. Dr. Cox‘s work is frequently featured in the Atlantic CNN and the Washington Post.
May 05, 2022
Rick Hasen - Election Law Expert - On How "Cheap Speech" is Poisoning America
**This episode was immediately popular in the Beyond Politics podcast (please subscribe to it!!!), so we are bringing it to our Great Ideas Listeners**  Today, in America, the system is blinking red. Experts are sounding increasingly dire alarms that our politics have become so distorted by anger, partisanship, lies, manipulation, and disinformation – not to mention deliberate steps to subvert American elections – that American democracy itself is in real peril. There may be no more widely respected  expert on election law and the role of disinformation that Rick Hasen.  He's a Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of  California, Irvine and is Co-Director of the Fair Elections and Free  Speech Center. Dr. Hasen also served in 2020 as a CNN Election Law  Analyst, and is the author of numerous books and articles, including  op-eds and commentaries in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Politico, and Slate. His most recent book is “Cheap Speech: How Disinformation Poisons Our Politics—and How to Cure It.”
April 28, 2022
Making the US the Arsenal of Clean Energy
Today, breaking the West's addiction to Russian oil and gas. The war in Ukraine has unified the US and most European countries and led to almost unprecedented cooperation on sanctions and economic measures to try to stop Russian aggression. But the hardest area to navigate has been energy. Oil is a global commodity that is very sensitive to price shocks like the current war, while Europe is highly dependent on both oil and gas from Russia's vast supply. Already, gas prices in the US have risen because of the war and European leaders have balked at cutting off Russian sources of supply fearing the consequences for their own economies. Is there a way out of this Russian energy trap? Our guest today says yes. Josh Freed is Senior Vice President for the Climate and Energy Program at Third Way, a center-left think tank in Washington DC.
April 14, 2022
Should President Biden Cancel Even More Student Debt? The Pros and Cons.
During the 2020 presidential primaries, talking about relieving or even outright canceling student loan debt became all the rage. Even Joe Biden, who was much less aggressive on this issue than his fellow candidates, supported canceling $10,000 for each of the 43 million federal student loan borrowers in America. Now President Biden is facing mounting pressure to do more. The president's supporters point out that he has already canceled $17 billion, more than any other president in history. But advocates are agitating for him to go farther, and warning of serious political consequences if he doesn't. So what's what's the case for and against, and are there other things that policymakers could and should be doing to deal with the problem? Our guest Michelle Dimino is Senior Policy Advisor in Education at Third Way, a center-left think tank in Washington DC and she’s here to unpack it all for us. 
March 31, 2022
What to Do About the Greatest Refugee Crisis in Europe Since World War II
More than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, the fastest-moving refugee crisis in Europe since the end of World War II. The massive displacement of millions of people threatens not only a humanitarian disaster, but an ongoing challenge for European nations and the United States. Elisa Massimino is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Executive Director of the Human Rights Institute at Georgetown Law. She led a team that recently issued a report titled “What the European Union and United States Need to Do to Address the Migration Crisis in Ukraine.” Photo by Kevin Bückert on Unsplash
March 24, 2022
How Does the Fed Control Inflation?
Today, it appears that we are on the verge of the Federal Reserve Bank taking a major step to control inflation, which remains the number one topic on Americans’ minds after setting a 40-year high in February.  But what exactly is the Fed doing, and why? Why is their step today different from anything they have tried before?  And what will the consequences be?  Our guest is Steve Robinson, the chief economist at the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to educating the public and finding common sense solutions to our nation’s fiscal policy challenges.
March 16, 2022
Are Microschools the Future of Education in America?
There are 13,000 different school districts in this country and 13,000 different ways to try to tackle learning, especially during the pandemic.  One approach that has taken off in the past two years is "microschooling." America has a long history of small-school environments, such as one-room schoolhouses and homeschools. But the Covid pandemic kicked the search for new or revived models of school into high gear.  All of which begs the question, is this back to the future approach better? Is it scalable? And who does it serve better than the current way we do school? Andy Smarick is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, where his work focuses on education and civil society. He’s previously served as the chair of the Maryland Higher Education Commission and as president of the Maryland State Board of Education.  He's just released three case studies that describe how Idaho, New York, and Arizona have handled microschools, and he joins us to explain whether this really is the wave of the future.
March 10, 2022
Removing America's Scars: How Did We Get Them, and What It Be Done?
Today, scars on America…though maybe not the kind you’re thinking about. This is a story about how economics, technology, and arrogance changed the face of America, and how some cities are now trying to unwind that complicated history. Our guest is Eric Kober, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and former director of housing, economic and infrastructure planning at the New York City Department of City Planning.
March 02, 2022
The Story of Moundsville, and What It Tells Us About America
Moundsville, directed by David Bernabo and John W. Miller and currently playing on PBS, is the biography of a classic American town: Moundsville, WV (pop. 8,400), on the Ohio River, where Appalachia hits the Midwest. Told through the voices of residents, the film diverts from the well-trod paths – opioids, coal, Trump – to trace the many forces that have buffeted this proud town, diminishing it but also offering new promise and opportunities. In this crossover episode with the Beyond Politics Podcast, director and former Wall Street Journal reporter John Miller joins the show to tell us what he learned after a year talking to the people of Moundsville, and what they can teach all of us about the future of America. 
February 09, 2022
Congress Has Become Bad Performance Art. Can We Fix It?
Today, looking closer at just how dysfunctional the United States Congress has become, and what we might do to fix it. The Gallup poll found in January 2022 that American approval of the job the US Congress is doing had fallen to 18%, one of the lowest points in the last 50 years. The last Congress under President Trump passed the fewest bills that got signed into law of any Congress going back to 1973. And that record-breaking level of futility has become almost commonplace in the last decade, since the three sessions of Congress from 2011-2017 were some of the least productive on record.  The Congress almost never does its annual homework assignment of passing individual appropriations bills, engages in stunts like the House voting to repeal or amend the Affordable Care Act more than 50 times with no hope of success, and seems continually locked in partisan flame wars. Our guest today examined a slice of this problem in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post titled “House committees are hearing from fewer witnesses. That hurts public policy.” So today we look not only at that specific problem, but also the larger issue of just how off track one of our three branches of government has gone, and what we can do to fix it. Dr. Kevin R. Kosar is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he studies the US Congress, the administrative state, American politics, election reform, and the US Postal Service. Dr. Kosar spent more than a decade working for the Congressional Research Service, where he focused on a wide range of public administration issues. He has taught public policy at New York University and lectured on public administration at Metropolitan College of New York. He’s written numerous books including “Moonshine: A Global History” (Reaktion Books, 2017) and “Whiskey: A Global History” (Reaktion Books, 2010). 
February 03, 2022
Beyond Politics Crossover Episode: What is Happening in Ukraine, and What the US Should Do
In this crossover episode that appeared on the Beyond Politics Podcast, with the eyes of the world on Ukraine, we look at why Russia has  pushed the world to the brink of war.  Max Bergmann is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he focuses on Europe, Russia,  and U.S. security cooperation. From 2011 to 2017, he served in the U.S.  Department of State in a number of different positions, including as a member of the secretary of state’s policy planning staff, where he focused on political-military affairs and nonproliferation; special assistant to the undersecretary for arms control and international security; speechwriter to then-Secretary of State John Kerry; and senior adviser to the assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs.He helps us understand why there is a brewing conflict, what the options are, and what the path ahead should be.
January 26, 2022
We're Thinking About Poverty in America All Wrong
Today, understanding poverty, and particularly child poverty, in America.  An expansion of the child tax credit or earlier this year shone a bright light on the nature of poverty particularly among America's children. The American Rescue Plan raised the maximum child tax credit to $3,000 or $3,600 per kid, depending on age. That’s up from $2,000. During 2021 estimates began to pour in about the number of American children who had been lifted out of poverty. Estimates ranged from 3 million up to a potential of even 5 million. But what was really stunning was the understanding that in America, nearly 11 million children are poor. That’s 1 in 7 kids, who make up almost one-third of all people living in poverty in this country. This number should be unimaginable in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. Kathryn Anne Edwards is an economist at the RAND Corporation and a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. Her research spans diverse areas of public policy, including unemployment insurance (UI); the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education pipeline and labor market; women's labor supply; the challenges in retirement facing older Americans; and labor market issues for workers without a college degree. Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash
January 20, 2022
Can Some Simple Election Reforms Save Us From a Total Meltdown?
This week, Democrats are desperately trying to figure out how to fix Senate rules in order to pass two election and voting reform bills – the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — that they believe could be all that stands between us and a total meltdown of our system of government in the next two years. So how big a threat is there to democracy, really? And how would these bills help?  Today, top election reform expert Alex Tausanovitch of the Center for American Progress answers both questions, and describes what we need to do long term to protect our freedom.
January 12, 2022
Starship Might Change the World
In the last two years, former NASA engineer Casey Handmer has written a series of articles that come to a startling conclusion: Elon Musk's "Starship" project at SpaceX has a real chance of changing everything about space travel, and with it, the world.  It could revolutionize major industries, the economy, the technology we live with in the world around us, and the future of humankind.  Sound like a stretch?  Perhaps...but if even just a bit of this revolution comes to pass, Starship could make the world of ten or twenty years from now very different.  So, today on Great Ideas, what is Starship, what does it mean, and why are the implications so profound?
January 06, 2022
Alternative Policing With Mental Health Counselors: Why Is It Fraught With Risk?
High profile incidents in recent years, including the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives
December 23, 2021
Why Are Oil and Gas Prices Up? And Is There Anything We Can Actually Do About It?
The biggest issue on Americans' minds today is the rise in prices. It has overwhelmed American's perceptions of the the economy, which by most other measures has been doing well.  At the root of recent inflation is a significant rise in energy costs, which Americans mostly experience in gasoline prices, but also through the rising cost of natural gas that affects home heating and even the price of electricity. Today on Great Ideas, understanding what is driving these price increases, where prices will be headed next, and what policymakers can actually do to achieve stable, affordable energy. Our guest experts are Mike Sloan, Senior Director, Energy Markets, and Andrew Griffith, Senior Energy Markets Consultant, both of ICF.  Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash
December 08, 2021
It costs more than homeland security, housing, and justice combined. We never talk about it.
An issue we never talk about -- and don't want to -- is how the federal government collects tax revenue. We have a voluntary tax compliance system in America, and it turns out that there are a lot of folks who cut corners or outright cheat the system when it comes to paying their taxes. This is a big problem.  America loses $600 billion dollars a year in unpaid taxes that are owed under the law. $163 billion of those dollars come from the very richest 1% of us. That segment from the richest Americans is more than we spend on housing, homeland security, and the Department of Justice …combined.  And the total that we are losing from all that tax cheating is almost as much as we pay for Defense. But of course the solution it's not something that most Americans like to think about or find particularly appealing. 52% of Americans have an unfavorable view of the IRS.  And let's face it, no one enjoys the process of paying their taxes or likes to think about ways to give the IRS more teeth. But that is exactly the direction the Democrats have been trying to suggest going in the Build Back Better bill. The mere suggestion has opened up a conversation about why this issue needs more attention and what we can do about it.  Our guest Seth Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.  He has testified before Congress, and his work has been cited in the Financial Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other publications. He has been featured in CNBC, NPR, C-SPAN and other outlets to discuss tax issues.
December 02, 2021
A Terrifying New China
Today: the promise, the peril, and the challenge of China. China is a re-emerging superpower that is increasingly contesting the United States for economic, political, military, and even cultural dominance in the world. In recent years the question of how to successfully manage our relationship with China has become even more pressing, and even more vexing.  We are clearly deeply interconnected with the Chinese economy and even dependent on it, as recent supply chain disruptions have shown. The emergence of the Covid pandemic and discussions of managing global warming at COP26 have shown in the starkest terms just how much we need Chinese cooperation to tackle the biggest challenges that our country and the entire world face. At the same time, we find ourselves embroiled in conflict -- over the Trump trade war, repression of the Uighur ethnic minority that many including the United States government have called a genocide, over disruption of the democratic government in Hong Kong, lingering flashpoints with Taiwan, and the increasingly aggressive economic investment agenda that China has been pursuing around the world. And we face a growing uncertainty over the future course that China will take as president Xi Jinping solidifies his hold on power and takes bold steps to shape Chinese Society. To help us understand where China is, where it may be going, and how the United States and the world should work with China, we are very fortunate to have Michael Schuman.  Michael Schuman is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Global China Hub and author of "Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World." He just wrote a fascinating article in the Atlantic called Xi Jinping’s Terrifying New China. 
November 18, 2021
So what's in the Build Back Better bill Anyway? And is it...good?
The "Build Back Better" seems like that's all we've been talking about for months. And yet strangely, there's very little public understanding of what it actually is. To opponents, it's a wildly over-aggressive piece of wasteful social spending. Tosupporters, it's a critical and long-overdue investment in long-neglected aspects of what makes our society run. But now, the actual contents of the bill are finally taking their almost-complete shape. A month ago, an op-ed in the Washington Post was eerily prescient about the shape of the final bill. The author of that op-ed, Ben Ritz, is the Director of the Center for Funding America's Future at the Progressive Policy Institute joins the show to walk us through the mystery, the pitfalls, and the promise of the Build Back Better bill.
November 03, 2021
The Not-So-Secret California Crisis that’s Coming for the Rest of America
Affordable housing is the kind of issue that people love not to think about. It rarely generates a lot of political heat, and in rural areas it’s barely an afterthought. But guess what the top issue in the California legislature is this year.  31 bills were signed by the governor last month that were all housing bills. In California, and increasingly in much of America, a lack of affordable housing is the key issue, and also a burning problem that drives a lot of the other things we think about in policy. The definition of affordable housing is people spending no more than 30% of their gross income on housing. In California, the majority of households are now spending more than 50%. But it’s not just California. It’s a growing problem in a lot of places. In Maine, one out of every 5 households is spending half of their gross income on housing. Our guest Sibley Simon – an innovative affordable housing developer – described how California is sending the rest of America a scary postcard from the future of what an affordable housing crunch looks like, and he explained the kinds of fresh ideas they are trying and that we will need to solve the problem. Photo by Liz Sanchez-Vegas on Unsplash
October 20, 2021
"No Way to Treat Our Kids." Is the Foster Care System Fixable?
Our guest today says that American kids who are in danger and in need of foster care are being left in dangerous situations far too long.  But even more provocatively, she makes the case that children are sometimes being used as pawns as part of a broader social agenda that, however well-intentioned, can be disastrous for kids left in foster care limbo. Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute where she focuses on child welfare and foster care issues. She has written for the Atlantic, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post and has appeared on NBC, Fox News and CNBC. Her new book is No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives. She explains where the system is coming apart and how better data, more coordination with civic groups, and reconsidered priorities could help stitch it together.  Photo by Birgit Loit on Unsplash
October 13, 2021
[Re-release]: Actual Health Care Compromises that Could Solve A Lot of Our Problems Right Now Without Breaking the Bank
Today we're revisiting our very first episode because it's so timely right now.  Congress is currently stuck on the President's "Build Back Better" plan.  A big part of the holdup is how much to spend on health care, and what to prioritize: more benefits for seniors, or more subsidies for everyone to afford private insurance? Build up a government-run health care system, or build up the Affordable Care Act? Force drug companies to negotiate for lower prices, or keep things the way they are because we need a pipeline of new medicines? All of which put us in mind of what we heard from health care expert Jim Capretta earlier this year, who described how to make three relatively simple changes that could cut costs and improve coverage for millions, and do it without breaking the bank.  Maybe there's a different way, and one that's less contentious, for Congress to get people more coverage, to lower costs, and to improve care. 
October 07, 2021
Are we headed for an epic climate-related financial meltdown? Not if we do these things...
Recent months have brought a slew of weather-related catastrophes to the United States: wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, and floods. While scientists continue to caution that it is hard to draw a direct line between any one weather event and global warming, they also say that these kinds of extreme weather episodes are preview of what is going to become all too common in the years ahead. The increase in frequency and severity of extreme weather events and long-term environmental shifts threatens to shake our financial system to its core, costing trillions in our real economy and in our financial institutions.  To make sure we don't have an even worse financial crisis than 2008, Gregg Gelzinis, Associate Director for Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress, explains how regulators and financial institutions can act right now to get ahead of the problem.
September 22, 2021
Should Medicare Be Covering Unproven Drugs? The Controversy that Exposes Big Flaws in Our Healthcare System.
On June 7, the F.D.A approved the use of the controversial Alzheimer’s treatment Aduhelm. This led to a backlash from many Alzheimer’s experts, who say that evidence for the drug’s effectiveness is limited. Now Medicare must choose whether to cover the drug, which has a sky-high cost. The decision raises a host of big picture questions about what we pay for – and what care we give – particularly to older Americans. Joshua B. Gordon is the Director of Health Policy for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. He explains why Medicare is now in an unwinnable position, and how the government should work around this set of controversial questions to try to fix the larger problems in the healthcare system.
September 15, 2021
Will We Actually Solve Immigration This Time? (Actually...We Might)
Over the last 20 years, there has been perhaps no issue in our public discussion more emotional, more fraught, and more elusive in terms of finding long term solutions than immigration. There have been many brief periods where it looked like the stars were aligning and political forces were coming together to support a longer-term consensus approach. Each time, those efforts have disintegrated into bickering and political backlash.  But some analysts believe that right now, we may be on the cusp of a longer-term solution. One of those experts is Nathan Kasai. He’s a Senior Policy Council at the Washington DC think tank Third Way, and he’s just published an article laying out the argument for why now could, and should, be the time to finally get something done on immigration. Photo by Elias Castillo on Unsplash
September 08, 2021
The Future of Work After the Great American Jobs Reshuffle
The past year and a half has been unusual to say the least when it comes to the way Americans live and interact. During the Covid pandemic, we’ve all had to adapt in all kinds of ways, and many of us have also found our preferences and priorities changing. Nowhere has that been more obvious than in the workplace. For Americans who have kept their jobs, there has been a new reality in day to day work life. From putting on protective gear to working behind a plastic shield… from meeting remotely over zoom to working out hours when you can get away from family caretaking commitments.  And then of course there are the tens of millions whose jobs were disrupted or lost altogether. As we begin to emerge from this pandemic conditions, American workers and businesses are re thinking how we work, How much we work, what we do at work,  and what we need out of our jobs. Dr. Daniel Cox is a Senior Fellow in public opinion at the American Enterprise Institute, AEI, and the Director of the Service Center on American life. He has been closely tracking the real time evolution in Americans' attitudes about work and what they might mean for the future of employment in America.  He is the co-author of a new report called the Great American Jobs Reshuffle based on the American Perspectives Survey of almost 2500 American adults. And he’s here to tell us all about it. Photo by Israel Andrade on Unsplash
September 01, 2021
The Future of Covid: What We Know, and How to Get There
The Covid-19 pandemic has now been a central part of our lives for a year and a half.  Along the way, our understanding of what this coronavirus is, what it does, and what we should do about it have evolved. In this episode, with all with the power of 20 months' worth of worldwide scientific research behind us, we look at both the present and future of Covid -- its risks, how to stop it’s spread, and how to protect ourselves; but also what is it going to take to end the pandemic conditions we’ve been living through and get ourselves to a new and better normal.  To explain all of this we have an outstanding scientist: Dr. Jodie Guest who is a Professor and Vice-Chair in the Department of Epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health and School of Medicine at Emory University.  Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash
August 18, 2021
Have we got everything backwards on how to fix education?
Recently, we did an episode here on Great Ideas where we talked about some of the lessons learned during the pandemic about remote learning, hybrid schools, and school reopening. We talked about what worked what didn’t and some of the problems that we encountered in trying to get "back" to school. But what if in our all out effort to get school going again, especially for our elementary age kids, we got focused on the wrong question? Even before the pandemic, progress on basic reading, science, and math scores had flattened. And those figures are far worse for kids in rural areas, Black kids, kids on Indian reservations, and most of all, for poor kids. The simple fact is that according to our best assessments, we are not getting the vast majority of our students to be even be proficient in basic skills. So amid the headlong rush to get back to what we were doing before, it seems reasonable to ask, are we rushing back to the right thing? Or is the right question really, how on earth can we do better by our kids? How can we move forward? That question has obsessed my guest today for his entire career. Dr. Benjamin Heuston is Executive Director of the Waterford Institute, a Utah-based not-for-profit that conducts early learning research and develops interactive education software aimed at kids in the pre-K-6 range.  He believes that our fundamental way of educating young kids needs an upgrade, but also, encouragingly that it’s do-able, and he has the evidence to prove it. ***Editor's Corection: the audio refers to Dr. Heuston as the CEO of the Waterford Institute, his former title.  We regret the error. 
August 04, 2021
What Works and What Doesn't With Remote Learning and School Re-opening
Every parent with a kid in school at any grade level over the last year and a half has some strong opinions about today’s topic. We all remember exactly what it was like in March of 2020. The sudden closure of schools. The scramble to figure out exactly what was next for kids. And then the patchwork of things that schools tried to do to hold the rest of the school year together. And of course, an even greater patchwork of approaches that schools tried across the country in this past academic year. Remote learning. In person learning. Hybrid schools. There are 13,000 different school districts in this country and there were 13,000 different ways to try to tackle learning during the pandemic. So with that year behind us and the upcoming school year still full of lingering uncertainty, what lessons can we draw from that experience? What are some of the best practices that we can apply for learning in the future. Our guest today has led an effort to answer these questions. Dr. Khalilah Harris is the Managing Director for K-12 Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. They’ve authored an insightful new report Remote Learning and School Reopenings What Worked and What Didn’t, and she’s here to tell us all about it.
July 21, 2021
Criminal justice reform, through the eyes of someone who fell into the system
Doug Dunbar spent almost 30 years in senior positions in government. He was the deputy Secretary of State in Maine. The press secretary to the Governor of Maine and his Communications Director in Congress. He’s worked for US senators and state agencies. He’s also now a felon. So how on earth did Doug end up spending 136 days in jail? And more importantly, what happened afterwards, and what does it mean for our system of criminal justice in America?  Today, a look at the system through a story that’s unique, but in many ways is going to be far too familiar to millions of Americans. Photo by Tim Hüfner on Unsplash
July 14, 2021
Is American Democracy Coming Apart? Actually...Maybe Not
A February poll by the Associated Press found that about half of Americans think Democracy isn’t functioning…only 16% think it’s working well.  The Pew Research Center finds that only 1/3 of Americans have confidence in the public’s wisdom in making political decisions, a figure that has been cut nearly in half in the last 25 years. 40 percent of Democrats and Republicans see the other party not just as people they disagree with, but as a threat to the well-being of the nation. 3/4 of American adults today say that Republicans and Democrats can’t even agree on basic facts. It seems like our basic belief in Democracy and our form of government is being strained to the breaking point. But, there are signs of hope. Pew finds that 84 percent think that trust in government can be improved. And 86 percent believe it is possible to improve trust in each other. So, how much trouble are we really in?  Our guest today Karlyn Bowman is an expert on tracking and analyzing American public opinion. She is a distinguished senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and has written extensively for a number of publications about how Americans think.   She says maybe the numbers aren't telling us the story it looks like...and maybe there's more reason for optimism after all.  Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash
July 07, 2021
America’s defense: where does all that money go?
For decades, one of the biggest debates in American public policy has been over our military spending. Defense accounts for 1 in every 7 dollars we spend. Many respected defense leaders have questioned whether we’re spending on the right things for the future, or if we’re mired in old thinking -- since as the saying goes, the Pentagon is always fighting the last war. And of course, there are countless stories of overspending, duplicative functions among the five separate military branches, and weapons systems that maybe we just don’t need. So how much of a problem do we actually have? David Walker is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in fiscal responsibility and government accountability. He served as Comptroller General of the United States and CEO of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). He’s a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, the author of four books, the subject of a 60 minutes segment, and today our guest on Great Ideas.
June 30, 2021
Biden Hit a Home Run in His First Foreign Trip
President Biden's first overseas trip to Europe last week brought our focus back to the relationships that defined American foreign policy – and much of world history – in the 20th century. But do they even matter anymore in the 21st? Max Bergman, a former State Department official who is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress says the answer is yes. And by focusing there first, and accomplishing as much as he did, President Biden hit a foreign policy home run for America. The fact is that Europe has undergone a massive transformation since World War II.Europe is integrating and has formed a union. The economy of the European Union is the same size as the United States. It's the same size as China. There's 450 million people in Europe – larger than the United States. It spends as much on defense as Russia and China. Its regulations set a standard worldwide. On top of that, it is quite stable. It is democratic, capitalist and free-market oriented. It could be our greatest strategic partner. And on the flip side, if it disintegrates, that's what Russia and China are after. That could be a strategic nightmare. Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash
June 23, 2021
The Way Forward on the Endless Health Care Wars? Cost Caps.
Since the creation of the Affordable Care Act a decade ago, we’ve gotten stuck on health care.  It's become incredibly hard to make progress on the sector which makes up 1/6th of our economy, and for most Americans is the most personal and meaningful interaction of government policy with their lives. Both political parties are mired in seemingly unending health care wars, while about 4 in 10 Americans have difficulty paying their medical bills. Today, we present a new idea on how to make some meaningful progress.  Ladan Ahmadi is the Deputy Director of Economic Communications and Health Policy at Third Way. She says that the way to move forward is to focus on the right thing: capping costs. Photo by Jair Lázaro on Unsplash
June 16, 2021
Don't tax the rich. Cut their benefits
President Biden wants to reverse Trump’s 2017 tax cut for the wealthy and use the money to pay for infrastructure. Republican leaders have drawn a line in the sand, saying they will not support any tax increase. And now the two parties are stuck. But conservative budget expert Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute says that there’s a better way: an approach that raises more revenue and that both parties could agree on.  Instead of fighting over taxes, why not cut back on some of the money that the federal government spends on rich people? Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
June 09, 2021
Are Conservatives Poised to Beat Out Liberals for the Lead on Education?
For decades, polling has shown that the public trusts Democrats – and their more liberal-minded policy ideas – far more than Republicans when it comes to education. Now, one nationally celebrated conservative education thinker thinks he can change that. “Conservatives are actually much better positioned than liberals to take the lead on this issue,” says Rick Hess, Director of Economic Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Hess launched “A New Conservative Education Agenda” – a project to compile innovative, conservative education reform ideas.  He gives us the rundown of why education policy went from relatively unified to contentious in America, some of the best ideas from AEI's conservative agenda, and whether conservatives truly can take the lead on this vital issue.  Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash
May 26, 2021
The Secret to Getting the Economy Going Again? Child Care.
Conversation about child care in America is usually driven by the question of how to prepare our kids for success in their education and later in life. But the last year has brought home another critical aspect of child care all too clearly: it is a critical enabler of work. Without it, parents simply can’t participate in the economy, and that is disproportionately true for America's female workforce which bears the brunt of child care responsibility at home. As we try to recover from the pandemic-induced recession, the key to unlocking our labor force, particularly for American women, may very well lie in our ability to unlock childcare. Julie Kashen is the Director of Women's Economic Justice at the Century Foundation and a policy expert on workforce and economic issues, and she walks through the critical connection between the economy we want and the child care that American families need.  Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash
May 19, 2021
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 06, 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 07, 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 03, 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 05, 2021