Monthly Archives: March 2010

O’Neal’s actions allowed, but shouldn’t be

oneal,mikeIt wasn’t surprising that a legislative panel concluded that Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, broke no state ethical rules by working as lead attorney in a lawsuit against the state. But what O’Neal refuses to acknowledge is that “complying with the rules” doesn’t make his actions right. That’s why the panel also concluded that the Legislature needs to change the obscure rule that allowed this conflict of interest. “We find this statute troubling and feel it has led to the appearance of impropriety and cast a shadow of suspicion and public criticism over the Kansas House,” the panel’s report said.

Obama’s take on tea party

obamalauerPresident Obama said that the tea party movement involves people who “are legitimately concerned about the deficit, who are legitimately concerned that the federal government may be taking on too much.” But, he told NBC’s “Today” show, there is also a “core group” of people who question whether he is a U.S. citizen and believe he is a socialist. He said that polarization and anger are spun up by “24/7 news cycle, cable chatter and talk radio and the Internet and the blogs, all of which try to feed the most extreme sides of any issue instead of trying to narrow differences and solve problems.”

Open thread 3/31

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Don’t be late with census forms

census2010Thursday is when the U.S. Census Bureau hopes to have as many completed 2010 forms back from Americans as possible. As of Tuesday, response rates in Kansas and Sedgwick County were 56 and 50 percent, respectively, compared with the nation’s 50 percent. The cost-saving cause of boosting mail-in response has motivated the bureau to spend $338 million on ads in 28 languages and $2.5 million on a Super Bowl ad, and to reach out to the conservative demographic by sponsoring a NASCAR entry and tapping Marie Osmond to talk up participation in Las Vegas and on QVC. Why worry about conservative response? Because of the anti-government noncompliance promoted by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who thinks the data might be misused (though it’s unlawful to share information even with other agencies). Pondering the simple form, Time magazine’s Nancy Gibbs wrote: “Bachmann may think the census is too intrusive; I just wish it were more so. As long as we’re spending all this money to reach so many people, imagine what we could find out. Which do you favor, Leno or Letterman? Smooth or chunky? Faith or works? Liberty or equality?”

Moran widens lead in poll

Moran-TiahrtRep. Jerry Moran (left), R-Hays, increased his lead over Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, in the latest SurveyUSA poll, co-sponsored by KWCH, Channel 12 in Wichita. According to a survey of likely GOP primary voters, Moran leads Tiahrt in the race for the U.S. Senate by 42 to 32 percent — though 21 percent of those surveyed were undecided. Moran leads among conservatives by 42 to 34 percent, and he leads in the vote-rich battleground of northeast Kansas by 43 to 24 percent. The only region or demographic where Tiahrt is leading is southeast Kansas, where he is up 52 to 28 percent.

Why Stupak voted for health care reform

stupakRep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., has been getting hammered (and threatened) by pro-life groups for “selling out” and voting for the health care bill. Stupak contends that some of these critics were cynically using the abortion issue as a way to try to kill health reform. He also argues that they are “disingenuous at best” in claiming that President Obama’s executive order preventing federal funding of abortion is meaningless. He notes how pro-life groups cheered when President Bush issued an executive order limiting stem cell research (which used the same standard language as Obama’s order). “I and other pro-life Democrats are pleased that we were able to hold true to our principles and vote for a bill that is pro-life at every stage of life and that provides 32 million Americans with access to high-quality, affordable health care,” Stupak wrote.

Open thread 3/30

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Use money to reduce deficit

deficitRather than use an estimated $1 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases to expand health care coverage, President Obama should have used that money to reduce the deficit, argues columnist Robert J. Samuelson. “Obama’s behavior resembles a highly indebted family’s taking an expensive round-the-world trip because it claims to have found ways to pay for it,” he writes. “It’s self-indulgent and reckless.”

No year for a costly special session

vratil,johnKansans have to hope that state Senate Vice President John Vratil, R-Leawood, was being unduly pessimistic in saying Sunday during “Ask Your Legislator” on KPTS, Channel 8, that the state budget crisis may necessitate a summer special session for the Legislature. That not only would be a regrettable expense (the 12-day special session in 2005 cost $574,000). It would be a hardship on school districts and other constituents of state services with hiring and planning to do. Whether it happens in May or July, Vratil predicted: “We will, ultimately, see a tax increase before we’re done.”

Obama and Boehner duet

You probably saw this coming. Here is a mashed video of the “Yes, We Can” song with House Minority Leader John Boehner’s “Hell, no, you can’t.”

GOP was for insurance mandate before being against it

healthunclesamRepublicans are up in arms about the requirement in the new health care law that all Americans must obtain health insurance. But the mandate is actually an idea that GOP lawmakers and the conservative Heritage Foundation have advocated for years, Associated Press reported. Some GOP lawmakers began calling for individual mandates in 1993 as a free market alternative to the Clinton health reform plan. As late as last August, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said that “Republicans believe in individual responsibility.” An individual mandate is also central to the Massachusetts health reform plan pushed by former GOP Gov. Mitt Romney. In 2006, Romney described the mandate as “a personal responsibility principle.” On the flip side, President Obama opposed the individual mandate when he was a candidate for president, saying that insurance was too expensive to force people to buy it.

Sebelius out of step with her state

Noting the GOP-led Kansas Legislature’s efforts to block the health care reform’s mandates, a Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail blogger asked “Et tu, Kansas?” and exclaimed: “Wow, the state that gave us the woman who will oversee Obamacare — Kathleen Sebelius — wants to keep Obamacare out of its borders. Well, to be fair, no one in this administration will be under Obamacare either.”

Open thread 3/29

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Alternative to blaming teachers?

teacherEven President Obama expressed his approval for the mass teacher firings at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island. But “the ‘fire them all’ approach doesn’t reflect the complexity of teaching in challenging schools,” wrote Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in USA Today. Instead of being blamed and fired, she argued: “Central Falls High School teachers should be lauded for helping to boost reading and writing scores by 22 and 14 percent, respectively, over the past two years, despite the disruptive turnover in principals, assistant principals and programs with each new administrator. The school board and superintendent should have asked what they could do to help good teachers become great teachers. Teachers need tools, time and trust from administrators to help students succeed.”

Commonsense blackout

tvremotePublic service announcements by statewide officeholders don’t count legally as campaign ads, but they can have that effect on voters — promoting the Kansas state treasurer, say, as he or she promotes the Learning Quest college-savings plan. State Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, thinks there should be a 30-day blackout period for such ads when the officeholder’s name will be on an upcoming ballot. As Washburn University political science professor Bob Beatty told the Topeka Capital-Journal, “You shouldn’t have to turn on the TV and see your opponent get free advertising. During a campaign period, candidates should have to pay for their own ads.”

State Legislature unpopular

thumbsdownMaybe lawmaking in general is out of favor. A new SurveyUSA poll, sponsored by KWCH, Channel 12, found that only 23 percent of Kansans approve of the job performance of the Kansas Legislature, while 44 percent approve of Gov. Mark Parkinson’s performance (down from 47 percent last month and a high of 53 percent last September). Meanwhile, 57 and 50 percent of those surveyed approve of the job performance of Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback, respectively. Kansas lawmakers shouldn’t feel singled out, though: Other recent SurveyUSA polls found the job approval ratings of the Legislatures in Washington state, Oregon and California at 20, 18 and 9 percent, respectively.

Open thread 3/28

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More on Sebelius’ shoulders

sebeliuslaughingWhen health insurance reform became law, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius became more powerful. Politico’s Mike Allen noted that “one of the most common phrases in the health reform bill is, ‘the secretary shall.’” The former Kansas governor, who acknowledged that the reform will require the hiring of hundreds of new HHS employees, tried to assure worried governors that this is “the most state-friendly Washington-designed bill I’ve seen in a very long time.”

Turnpike’s refusal to make changes is unacceptable

turnpikeWrong-way accidents on the Kansas Turnpike are rare. But they do occur and often are tragic, as when four Wichitans died in a crash during spring break. The unwillingness of turnpike officials to make simple and relatively inexpensive changes to try to prevent such accidents is callous and unacceptable. Installing bigger “Do Not Enter” signs, lowering such signs, and putting reflective tape on ramps would not be major expenses, but have proved to be effective deterrents, even when a driver is drunk — as was the case with the spring break wreck. Yet Kansas Turnpike Authority president Michael Johnston dismissed the need for such changes, citing how when drivers use the wrong ramps “it’s only a small percent of the time that things deteriorate.” But when it does happen, people end up dead, such as Kyoung Yeon Chae, Yuna Choi, Seo Won Choi and Greg Davis. How is trying to prevent such deaths not worth the cost of a few extra signs?

So they said

“I don’t go out and have 1,000 town hall meetings so that I can get re-elected. I’m there to fight for Kansas, for our future, for our kids.” — Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, in Johnson County, taking a swing at U.S. Senate primary rival Rep. Jerry Moran

“She is a fanatical Jayhawks fan. She’s a maniac when it comes to the Jayhawks. Talks trash all the time.” — President Obama, acknowledging that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius influenced his pick of KU to win the NCAA Tournament

“Even though I’m disappointed in the game, there’s a lesson: It’s never about the pundits. It’s never about the polls.” — Sebelius, with Obama in Iowa last week, still stinging from KU’s loss to Northern Iowa

“The-Kansas-doesn’t-need-health-care-reform-according-to-what-they-said-on-Fox Act” — Wichita Branch NAACP president Kevin Myles’ name for the Kansas Health Freedom Amendment, which fell short of the needed House votes last week

Pro-con on financial regulatory reform

bankcrisisA comprehensive package of financial regulatory reforms voted out of the Senate Banking Committee is fundamental to restoring the credibility of the U.S. financial system and rebuilding the strength of the economy. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, has set out a bill with a key remedial step: creation of a consumer protection agency. American consumers suffered for lack of trustworthy information about a variety of financial products. The legislation would end “too big to fail” by imposing new capital and leverage requirements on financial firms. The bill also seeks to regulate and generally tighten rules on the most exotic investments. Transparency and accountability are words that get heavy use, whether the topic is investments or the practices of credit-rating agencies. Too much of the economy operated out of sight and in the shadows, until things went bad, and financial firms needed lucrative bailouts. — Seattle Times

The Senate Banking Committee’s plan would create a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would almost certainly work at cross-purposes with other regulators charged with ensuring the safety and soundness of institutions. The bill would establish a powerful Financial Stability Oversight Council; but none of the nine existing regulators foresaw the present crisis, so it’s hard to see how this new council will prevent the next one. Regulators would have the power to seize and liquidate financial firms that they feel are in trouble, even if investors and board members didn’t agree. The bill would create a $50 billion fund to be used to help finance these forced liquidations; this is nothing more than a permanent Troubled Asset Relief Program fund. This is the wrong approach to fixing our financial markets. The focus should be on establishing an effective bankruptcy system for large financial firms to allow failures to be addressed in the same way failure is addressed in other industries. — James Gattuso, Heritage Foundation

Open thread 3/27

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Is a value-added tax coming soon?

taxrevenueColumnist Charles Krauthammer warns that a value-added tax may be coming soon to help lower the deficit and pay for Obamacare: “For the politician, it has the virtue of expediency: People are used to sales taxes, and this one produces a river of revenue. Every 1 percent of VAT would yield up to $1 trillion a decade (depending on what you exclude — if you exempt food, for example, the yield would be more like $900 billion). It’s the ultimate cash cow. Obama will need it.”

Not all chambers against tax hikes

tax-calculatorIn the latest confirmation that the Kansas Chamber of Commerce doesn’t accurately represent all of Kansas business, 14 local chambers of commerce from around the state are lobbying legislators to balance the budget with a combination of budget cuts and “rational state revenue enhancements.” The local chamber leaders represent Arkansas City, Hutchinson, Topeka, Manhattan, Olathe, Overland Park, Salina, Hays, Emporia, Dodge City, Grant County, northeast Johnson County, greater Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan. Meanwhile, the Kansas Chamber is lobbying against any tax increase, as is the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. “I find it hard to believe that any business in the state is saying, ‘Add to my taxes,’” said Bryan Derreberry, president and CEO of the Wichita chamber.

Lawmakers don’t care what police, universities say about gun law

goyle,rajEven opposition from the Kansas Peace Officers Association wasn’t enough to keep the Kansas House from approving a bill this week that would effectively force universities, community colleges and local governments to accept concealed guns in their buildings. The bill allows permit holders to carry concealed guns in municipal and state buildings that don’t have metal detectors at each entrance or other costly security measures. Even some lawmakers who should know better, such as state Rep. Raj Goyle (in photo), D-Wichita, voted for this bill. Thankfully, even if it clears the Kansas Senate, the bill doesn’t have the two-thirds majority needed to override a likely gubernatorial veto.