Monthly Archives: April 2011

Jindal ready to pander to ‘birthers’

Good for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer for vetoing a bill that would require presidential candidates to provide the state with a birth certificate. “I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for president of the greatest and most powerful nation on Earth to submit their ‘early baptismal circumcision certificates’ among other records to the Arizona secretary of state,” Brewer said. “This is a bridge too far.” But pandering to “birthers” apparently is not too far for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Even though Jindal says he believes President Obama is a U.S. citizen, he plans to sign a similar bill if it reaches his desk, his spokesman said this week.

Medicare reforms weren’t so bad after all

Republicans and their backers spent about $70 million on TV ads last year attacking Democrats for cutting Medicare. At issue weren’t benefit cuts but reductions in reimbursement rates to drug companies, hospitals and insurance companies as part of the federal health care reform law. Yet the GOP budget plan developed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., keeps those reductions in place, the Wall Street Journal reported. Apparently they weren’t such bad ideas after all.

Workers’ comp law should be a model

Gov. Sam Brownback was correct in praising the cooperation and compromise of labor and business groups that led to the state’s new workers’ compensation law. “This is the way to do it,” Brownback said Monday at a signing ceremony in Wichita, noting the contrast with the fighting that dominates national politics. GOP lawmakers in the House nearly undermined the compromise by adding amendments to the bill. Another House bill blocking union members from voluntarily paying their dues using payroll deductions further poisoned efforts to cooperate. Fortunately, the Senate returned the workers’ comp bill to its original form, which both chambers approved unanimously.

Skeptical of Trump’s conservative credentials

A new poll showing Donald Trump 9 percentage points ahead of the pack of potential GOP presidential candidates is bringing out the critics on the right. “Donald Trump has advocated for massive tax increases that display a stunning lack of knowledge of how to create jobs,” said Club for Growth president Chris Chocola. “His love for a socialist-style universal health care system and his alarming obsession with protectionist policies are automatic disqualifiers among free-market conservatives.”

Don’t have to cut education to cover latest shortfall

The state’s new revenue estimates, released Friday, contained more bad budget news. Total state revenue for the remainder of this fiscal year (ending June 30) is expected to be $10.2 million less than earlier projections. And next fiscal year’s estimate was reduced by $21.5 million. These decreases likely will lead to more budget cuts, primarily to education funding. But cutting isn’t the only option. The federal tax-cut deal approved in December is responsible for a $24 million drop in state revenue this fiscal year and a $53 million decline next fiscal year, according to the new revenue estimates. That wouldn’t have to be the case next fiscal year if Kansas decoupled its taxes from the federal tax code for all or part of these tax cuts — such as the provision allowing businesses to deduct the full value of new equipment purchases. That way, taxpayers still would get the federal tax cut but not a state tax cut as well. Most states already have done this. After all, why should Kansas give out more tax cuts to businesses if they have to be paid for with more funding cuts to education?

Still paying for Kline

It’s been four years since Phill Kline was Kansas attorney general, and Kansans are still paying for it. So far, Kansas taxpayers have paid more than $500,000 in legal fees and expenses defending Kline and two of his former aides against ethics charges. And more Kline hearings are scheduled for July. Be careful whom you elect.

Pompeo sees culture change in Congress

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, took part in a focus group of freshmen GOP members of Congress on the “Hannity” show on Fox News last week. When asked by pollster Frank Luntz how the culture had changed during the first 100 days of this Congress, Pompeo said that lawmakers “don’t spend much time talking about how we got here, whether it was Democrats or Republicans that dug this hole,” Instead, Pompeo said, “we spent a lot of time thinking about, what are the facts? How do we get out of this? What is the path forward? I think that’s a big shift.”

Can blacks, Hispanics deliver Obama a second term?

President Obama goes into his re-election campaign with long odds and lots of critics. The New York Times’ Charles Blow observed: “To those unhappy on the left, he’s a corporatist, war-waging, pusillanimous pushover who is silver-tongued and rubber-spined. To those who most oppose him on the right, he is a socialist, spendthrift, republic-destroyer who is unfit, unqualified and literally, by way of his ‘Kenyan birth,’ ineligible to be president.” Blow added: “So Obama’s best chances of winning re-election may well hinge on his ability to re-energize and engage two of his largest, strongest groups of supporters who have mostly avoided the negative labeling: blacks and Hispanics. But that won’t necessarily be easy either.”

Kansas teachers among lowest paid

Teacher pay in Kansas ranks 47th in the nation, according to an updated report by the Economic Policy Institute titled “The Teaching Penalty.” Based on average wages from 2006 to 2010, adjusted for inflation using 2010 dollars, Kansas teachers with bachelor’s degrees were paid $732 per week on average. Only Missouri, Oklahoma and South Dakota were lower. When combined with teachers who have master’s degrees, Kansas’ average pay of $804 per week was the 48th highest, ahead of only Oklahoma and Mississippi. The main focus of the report is how teachers are losing ground compared with other professionals. Nationwide, it found that public schoolteachers in 2010 earned about 12 percent less than comparably educated workers in other fields. In Kansas, the wage disparity was 30 percent.

‘White elephant’ made a million bucks

The big check may have been a little over the top. But it was a big deal that Intrust Bank Arena had $1.1 million in 2010 profits to hand over to Sedgwick County, its owner, at Wednesday’s County Commission meeting. The presentation by arena general manager A.J. Boleski confirmed that the facility had a great opening year, defying critics’ predictions that it would be a white elephant (though critics still complain that the arena’s profit calculation doesn’t include depreciation costs). To their credit, county officials are recognizing that the arena’s 2010 performance is no guarantee of future results. Though they might like to have the cash to help with the county budget crunch, officials are prudently adding it to the arena reserve fund, to offset future costs at both the arena and the Kansas Pavilions.

Moran’s timely tribute to Dole

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., offered a poignant tribute to former Sen. Bob Dole (in photo) on the Senate floor Thursday, 66 years to the day after Dole was so gravely wounded during World War II and two days after the dedication of a plaque honoring Dole at the National World War II Memorial. “It serves its purpose,” Moran said of the memorial that Dole fought to fund and build, recalling how after Moran’s first visit to the site he called his veteran father and conveyed a message of respect, gratitude and love. Moran said that Dole “has been the caring, compassionate guide for all of us as we try to make certain that no military service goes unrewarded and that no commitment that was made to those who serve our country is forgotten.” Our editorial Thursday applauded both Dole and the decision to honor him with a plaque at the memorial.

Pro-con on Obama’s deficit-reduction plan

President Obama made the compelling case that attacking the nation’s deficit will require two essential actions: Increase taxes on the wealthy and cut federal spending — yes, even if it involves defense and entitlement programs. Bully for Obama. He got this one right, and Americans ought to applaud him for having the political courage to stake out a strong stance. Obama was particularly eloquent in unequivocally stating he won’t embrace the GOP’s stance of lavishing continued tax cuts on the superrich while eviscerating programs for lower-income Americans. The United States needs to get on firmer fiscal footing. Obama has laid out a reasonable start toward reaching that goal. Congress should follow him and get the job done. — Kansas City Star

President Obama did not deign to propose an alternative to the plan by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., even as he categorically rejected all its reform ideas, repeatedly vilifying them as essentially un-American. The great political challenge of the moment is how to update the 20th-century entitlement state so that it is affordable. With incremental change, Ryan is trying maintain a social safety net and the economic growth necessary to finance it. Obama presented what some might call the false choice of merely preserving the government we have with no realistic plan for doing so, aside from proposing $4 trillion in phantom deficit reduction over a gimmicky 12-year budget window that makes that reduction seem larger than it would be over the normal 10-year window. — Wall Street Journal

Few small businesses would pay higher taxes

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, argued that letting tax cuts for the wealthy expire, as President Obama recommended Wednesday, would mean that “half of small businesses would suffer a tax increase . . . , harming their ability to hire more workers and to pay their current workers more.” But that doesn’t match Internal Revenue Service statistics, which show that only 3 percent of small-business owners earn enough to be subject to the higher rates. If you don’t count small home-based operations, the total number of businesses affected by the tax increase would be about 8 percent, though those companies earn about half of the business income reported on personal tax returns, the New York Times reported.

Times they are a-changin’

Bob Dylan sold out years ago. And according to his memoir, “Chronicles,” he had no interest in being an anti-establishment leader, even during the 1960s. Still, he is getting grief for his recent concert in China in which he agreed to let the government approve which songs he would sing. “He sang his censored set, took his pile of communist cash and left,” columnist Maureen Dowd wrote.

Come together on deficit reduction

Good for President Obama for presenting a plan Wednesday for reducing the federal deficit by $4 trillion over the next 12 years. And good for Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., for presenting a proposal last week. The two alternatives — along with the report issued in December by Obama’s deficit-reduction commission — should spur a bipartisan reform effort, as is happening among the so-called Gang of Six in the Senate. Neither Obama’s nor Ryan’s plan can pass Congress as is, and grandstanding won’t reduce the deficit. Lawmakers need to come together in good faith and agree on a serious solution, which likely needs to include cuts to Medicare and Social Security along with tax increases.

GOP is on a winning streak

The winners and losers of last weekend’s budget deal are still in dispute, Politico reported, “but the broader trajectory of politics, stretching back to the spring of 2009, is not. The Republican — and, yes, the tea party — agenda is not only ascendant, it’s driving the debate over reshaping government at every level.”

Ranzau ‘yes-man’ for a day

Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau prefaced his weekly update Wednesday on the size of the U.S. federal debt ($128,543 per citizen, he said) by noting that his behavior during the meeting had been out of character. “I’d like to get it on the public record today that I voted ‘yes’ on every item today,” Ranzau said, noting it was also out of character and “enjoyable” to have had no questions about the day’s bids or consent agenda items. “So noted,” said an amused Commission Chairman Dave Unruh.

The Donald a GOP favorite?

Maybe Donald Trump’s appeal to “birthers” is paying off. Or maybe GOP voters are just getting desperate. A CNN/Opinion Research poll asked Republican and Republican-leaning independents which candidate they would be most likely to support for president. Trump tied with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee with 19 percent support. Among women surveyed, Trump had 23 percent support, the highest of any candidate. However, 43 percent of those surveyed said they would not like to see Trump run for president.

Sharp divide on Planned Parenthood funding

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius lashed out Friday at the efforts of GOP House Republicans to hold up budget negotiations over Planned Parenthood. Cutting Title X family planning funds “could increase the number of unintended pregnancies and increase the number of abortions, so the people who say they’re having this battle about abortion are actually not looking at what the statistics have indicated,” Sebelius told Politico. “Federal funds have never supported abortion, do not support abortion, will not support abortion.” But Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, argued that “more taxpayer funding of America’s largest abortion provider equals more abortions and fewer adoptions.” Overall, 65 percent of the public favored continued funding for Planned Parenthood, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.

Roberts wishes Petraeus would run

There is widespread concern among Republican members of Congress about the lackluster quality of the likely GOP presidential candidates, Politico reported. That has some lawmakers looking for possible candidates outside the traditional party structure. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., joked about wishing Gen. Dwight Eisenhower could run again. But he said that there’s another general who is an obvious choice: Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force.

Public backs budget deal but is disgusted

Americans support the federal budget deal by a 58 to 38 percent margin, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey. And 54 percent of them approve of how the president handled the budget negotiations, while 44 percent approve of how congressional Republicans and Democrats performed. But when asked in a Washington Post/Pew poll to describe the budget negotiations, the word most used was “ridiculous,” followed by “disgusting.”

Dependency makes cutting difficult

One reason it is so difficult to curb federal spending is that so many Americans directly benefit from it. “The Census Bureau reports that in 2009 almost half (46.2 percent) of the 300 million Americans received at least one federal benefit: 46.5 million, Social Security; 42.6 million, Medicare; 42.4 million, Medicaid; 36.1 million, food stamps; 3.2 million, veterans’ benefits; 12.4 million, housing subsidies,” columnist Robert Samuelson wrote. “The census list doesn’t include tax breaks. Counting those, perhaps three-quarters or more of Americans receive some sizable government benefit.” The consequence of the dependence, Samuelson wrote, “is political overload: The system can no longer make choices, especially unpleasant choices, for the good of the nation as a whole.”

Kansas delegation should vote for budget deal

It was ugly to watch, but at least congressional leaders reached a budget deal late Friday. Now lawmakers need to approve it this week and move on. Though they wanted more than $38.5 billion in spending cuts, members of Kansas’ delegation should support the deal, as it is a reasonable compromise that avoids a government shutdown. And though they also wanted to defund Planned Parenthood — even though its federal funding already can’t be used to pay for abortions — it is not reasonable to expect that such social policy changes be part of a budget deal.

What will it take to kick foreign oil habit?

Discussing President Obama’s recent energy speech, in which he talked of cutting U.S. oil exports by one-third over a decade, a panel on NBC’s “Meet the Press” pondered why it’s taking the nation so long to become more energy independent. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin noted that presidents since Nixon have talked about an Apollo-like mission to kick our foreign oil habit, then she looked back to World War II: “Our natural rubber supply was cut off from Japan and the Far East. Somehow, within 18 months, we get synthetic rubber that takes up that huge gap because we had the will, because we had the desire. Do we need that kind of crisis to move? It’s nuts.” Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne added: “Well, obviously, the threat of Hitler and Imperial Japan does wonders for the national will.”

Modern presidents should be careful like Ike

During the past few decades, there has been a bias among U.S. presidents for dramatic physical action on foreign conflicts, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote. “But carefulness in a leader is a beautiful thing,” Noonan said, citing the new book by David A. Nichols of Winfield. “Eisenhower 1956” recounts how President Eisenhower resisted pressure to commit U.S. forces to the Suez Crisis and Hungary. “In America, applause for the moderate will be moderate, approval for the restrained will be restrained,” Noonan wrote. “But Ike was at his greatest when he wasn’t waging war.”