Monthly Archives: June 2012

Pro-con: Was court’s health care ruling correct?

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision upholding the core of the Affordable Care Act is good news for the court and the country. Chief Justice John G. Roberts was statesmanlike in choosing to side with four more liberal justices in finding that the law’s most controversial provision, the mandate that individuals obtain health insurance, was a constitutional exercise of Congress’ power “to lay and collect taxes.” That solution allows the main provisions of the law to take effect. Even more important, it is respectful, as the court should be, of congressional authority and the democratic process that underlies it. Many Americans were watching the court to see whether, at a time of extreme partisanship, it could craft a decision that impressed as an act of law, not politics. In our view, the court passed that test of legitimacy. Now the arguments over Obamacare can continue where they are best fought out, in the political arena. – Washington Post

If there is a modicum of hope in Chief Justice John Roberts’s inglorious one-man opinion, it is that Americans were reminded again that they cannot count on others to protect their liberty. Certainly judges aren’t reliable. They can be turned by the pressure of the media and the whims of vanity. If Americans want to repeal Obamacare, their only recourse is to demand it at the ballot box in November. The Affordable Care Act is more unpopular now than when it passed, yet it will grind on toward implementation in a second Obama term. The president made that clear in his remarks Thursday, deploying the usual half-truths he used to jam the law through Congress. He continued to claim that no one will lose his current health insurance, though millions are sure to do so as they are dropped from business coverage and tossed into Medicaid or government exchanges. – Wall Street Journal

Oops, Supreme Court didn’t overturn mandate

CNN and Fox News initially reported that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the health care mandate. Oops. That prompted this Photoshop update of the classic Harry Truman photo.

Kobach: GOP primary key to action on immigration

Asked by Time’s Swampland blog what the U.S. Supreme Court’s immigration decision means for Kansas, Secretary of State Kris Kobach predicted efforts to pass laws mandating that businesses use E-Verify and law enforcement check immigration status, a la Arizona. And he didn’t sound much like a neutral state elections official. “But it will all be dependent on what happens in the Aug. 7 primary,” he said. “Each state has its own little game: In Kansas we had a very conservative House and we had a very moderate/liberal Senate, and there was this coalition of Republican moderates who would align themselves with Democrats and had a governing majority and would defeat conservative legislation. In the Aug. 7 primary it will be determined whether it will be a conservative Republican majority or a moderate/liberal Republican majority. If the conservatives take control of the Kansas Senate, then I think you will see legislation like Arizona’s have a good chance of succeeding.”

Complaints about the DMV continue

Wichitans aren’t the only ones who have had to put up with long lines at the Kansas Division of Motor Vehicles, made even longer by regular computer crashes. Waits at the Lawrence DMV can be more than three hours. In Johnson County, the waits can be more than six hours. Topeka’s DMV closes its lines at noon in order to get people through by 4:30 p.m. “The lines still resemble those for the best rides at the biggest amusement parks,” wrote KansasReporter.org. “Minus the eventual thrills, of course.”

It’s official: Obamacare is constitutional

After all the contentious debate, the U.S. Supreme Court has finally settled it: The federal health care law is constitutional, including the individual mandate. But the politics of the law are far from settled, as it will be a campaign issue in the coming presidential and congressional elections, and Congress is sure to continue fighting about it. Though some may have been stunned by the court’s ruling, it wasn’t a huge surprise. Two federal appeals courts had upheld the law, and past court rulings set precedents that would be difficult to ignore. What perhaps was most surprising was that the deciding vote in the court’s 5-4 decision came from Chief Justice John Roberts. Also of note: The court based its decision on Congress’ authority to tax, not on the commerce clause.

Huelskamp is king against gay rights

First-term Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, was named the “most anti-gay U.S. representative” by the website Think Progress, topping the list of 144 members of Congress who have sponsored or co-sponsored at least 10 pieces of legislation viewed as hostile to gay rights. The website credited Huelskamp with amendments to ban a directive that allows military chaplains to voluntarily solemnize same-sex unions and to prohibit the use of funds in violation of the Defense of Marriage Act, as well as a bill to bar the use of military facilities for same-sex unions. After summing up Huelskamp’s and others’ actions, the website concluded: “While Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, has downplayed his party’s focus on social issues, preferring to talk about jobs, it’s clear where he and his caucus are really focused.”

Renaming building a fitting honor for Beggs

Renaming the Engineering Research Building at Wichita State University after retired WSU president Donald L. Beggs is a fitting honor. Beggs led WSU for 13 years before retiring last month. The name change was prompted by the generous support of Wichita philanthropist Velma Wallace. Beggs noted the “positive impact” the engineering building and its students will have on society. Beggs and his wife, Shirley, had a similarly positive impact on the university and this community.

Republicans hate Obamacare but like much of it

Though most Republicans oppose the federal health care law, they support many of its key provisions, according to a new Reuters-Ipsos survey. For example, 80 percent of Republicans favor creating an insurance marketplace for small businesses and individuals (yet Gov. Sam Brownback sent back federal grant money last year to help Kansas set this up). Also, 57 percent of Republicans support providing subsidies on a sliding scale to help people buy insurance, 54 percent favor requiring companies with more than 50 employees to provide insurance, and 78 percent support banning insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions (which necessitates the individual mandate to purchase insurance). How is it that people hate the law but like what it does? “It’s another sign of the conservative messaging triumph in this fight and the failure of Dems to make the case for the law,” wrote Greg Sargent of the Washington Post. But if the Supreme Court strikes down the law, Sargent said, there might be opportunities to refocus on some of these individual reforms.

Schmidt tries to manage use of outside lawyers

Like pretty much every attorney general before him, Derek Schmidt has been criticized for the cost of hiring outside counsel to represent the state, including in the school-finance trial and the challenges to four new abortion laws. But “we get sued a lot,” he recently told The Eagle editorial board, and his comparatively small team of 40 to 45 in-house attorneys will always need to rely on outside counsel as a safety net. The office has spent more money on outside attorneys than he’d like to spend, but it’s saved some, too, on attorneys’ fees and otherwise. Schmidt said he expects to add civil litigators and pull in some cases now being farmed out. He defended the decision to hire outside lawyers to represent the state against the significant legal challenges to the abortion laws. “They deserve a good defense,” he said.

Chamber PAC endorsements useful to supporters, critics

The political action committee of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce released last week a list of “pro-business candidates” it supports in the August primaries. A key litmus test was whether lawmakers voted against the temporary sales-tax increase in 2010. “Some in the Kansas Senate and House opted for tax increases instead of responsible spending cuts,” chamber PAC chairman Ivan Crossland said in a press release. Yet Gov. Sam Brownback and chamber-endorsed candidates had the past two years to revoke the sales tax but made no move to do so. In fact, the Kansas Chamber and Brownback now want the sales-tax increase to be permanent. The chamber also doesn’t seem to like lawmakers such as Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, who challenged parts of Brownback’s agenda. Rochelle Chronister, spokeswoman for Traditional Republicans for Common Sense, said the endorsement list is useful to critics of the chamber’s tax policies because it identifies whom not to vote for – candidates who “push an out-of-step economic agenda that will force sales and property taxes to skyrocket.”

Arizona ruling no victory for either side

It was a big stretch for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to call the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on her state’s immigration law “a victory.” The high court tossed out much of the law, which Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach helped write. The state “may not pursue policies that undermine federal law,” the court wrote. For now, the court did let stand the law’s requirement that police officers check the immigration status of those they detain if there is “reasonable suspicion” the person is an illegal immigrant. But even that provision could face additional legal challenges, said the justices, who want the issue first heard by state courts. The Supreme Court’s ruling isn’t much of a victory for the federal government, either. It was the feds’ failure to enforce immigration law, and Congress’ failure to create a workable and responsive immigration system, that caused some states to take matters into their own hands.

Biggest spending surge was before Obama

Former Reagan economist Arthur Laffer, who consulted on Kansas’ tax policy, and Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal noted how “the largest peacetime expansion of government spending in U.S. history” occurred during George W. Bush’s administration, not during the Obama administration. The list of spending is long, they wrote, starting with “the 2003 trillion-dollar Medicare prescription drug benefit and culminating with the actions taken to stem the 2008 financial meltdown – the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, the bailout of insurance giant AIG and government-sponsored lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the ill-advised 2008 $600-per-person tax rebate, the stimulus add-ons to 2007’s housing and farm bills, etc.” The stimulus plan and auto industry bailouts helped increase spending during Obama’s first year in office, but since then it has decreased (due in part to the recovering economy and pressure from GOP lawmakers who suddenly cared again about deficits).

Should KU consider crimson-and-blue bloodline?

Kansas City Star columnist Mary Sanchez gave the University of Kansas high marks for toughening its admission standards, a move signed off on by the Kansas Board of Regents last week. Beginning in 2016, an incoming freshman would need a 24 or better on the ACT (up from 21 now) and a 3.0 grade point average in high school (up from 2.0) for automatic admittance to KU (an even higher GPA could offset a lower ACT score). But Sanchez noted that KU will take into account whether an applicant comes from a family of KU grads, and “‘Who’s your daddy?’ shouldn’t be a privilege at a public institution seeking to serve a range of students.” She added: “KU is wisely attempting to elevate itself to a higher national ranking by improving retention and graduation rates. And bloodline has nothing to do with the ability to succeed academically.”

Don’t look to Kansas congressional races for suspense

Though none of the Kansans in Congress faces a primary challenge this year, Reps. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, each will face Democratic and Libertarian opponents in November. After the first quarter, Pompeo had $884,000 in campaign funds, compared with Jenkins’ nearly $1.1 million. Meanwhile, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, had $420,100 as of March but drew no challenger at all this year. “It wasn’t for lack of trying,” Kansas Democratic Party chairwoman Joan Wagnon told the Garden City Telegram, noting one Democrat opted not to run after getting a job promotion and she talked to six others who were discouraged by the short time frame. Meanwhile, “Breaking news. We can project Kevin Yoder the winner in the 2012 Kansas 3rd District House race,” declared Kansas City Star columnist Dave Helling, suggesting the Overland Park Republican “can now stand on his $1 million campaign fund to re-measure the drapes in his Washington office.” Yoder (in photo) does face Libertarian and Reform Party challengers in November, but “it’s hard to imagine either has a prayer,” Helling wrote.

Kansans shouldn’t have to pay for Legislature’s failure

It’s bad enough that legislators spent a 99-day session unable to agree on redistricting maps, in a bitter and historic impasse fueled by special interest groups and self-interest. It will be more galling if Kansans end up paying $662,000 in attorneys’ fees and other legal expenses that parties related to the redistricting mess are seeking from the state. The decision will be made by the federal judges who ended up drawing new maps themselves. Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who recently told The Eagle editorial board he planned to contest the fees as appropriate, rightly compared the situation last week to double-billing, because taxpayers already paid for the Legislature’s failed attempt at redistricting. Too bad Kansans can’t forward the legal bills to the politicians and lobbyists responsible.

Interest in downtown housing is encouraging

It’s encouraging that three successful Wichita developers are all considering apartment projects downtown. Jack DeBoer, Steve Clark and Colby Sandlian see downtown’s potential and recognize the importance of getting more people living and working there. “Downtown needs more housing, plain and simple,” DeBoer told The Eagle. “If we get more people downtown, the rest of it will follow, and it will not happen in the reverse.” One concern is Clark’s contention that the city needs to tear down old buildings. Though it can be easier to build from scratch, and there may be some buildings that aren’t worth saving, the city needs to be careful not to lose the character and historic value of downtown.

So they said

“We may have to change the street signs out in west Wichita to just simply say, ‘We Care.’” – Wichita City Council member Jeff Longwell, moving for approval of a letter of intent to issue health care revenue bonds for a Via Christi Health assisted-living facility in northwest Wichita

“I guess we care, too.” – Mayor Carl Brewer, after the council’s unanimous vote in favor of the project

“It’s great to be out of Washington, a city where people are never encumbered by the facts.” – Randy Cohen of Americans for the Arts, speaking at an Arts and Economic Prosperity breakfast at the Hyatt Regency Wichita

Pro-con: Was GOP correct to cite Holder for contempt?

President Obama’s attempt to invoke executive privilege to forestall contempt-of-Congress proceedings against Attorney General Eric Holder failed. Instead, the claim elevates the dispute between the administration and Capitol Hill to a new and troubling level. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted Wednesday to recommend a contempt charge against Holder. Since October, the Justice Department has refused to respond to a subpoena seeking 1,300 pages of documents related to the botched Fast and Furious Mexican gunrunning operation. Negotiations between the Justice Department and committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., broke down, and the contempt recommendation followed. Obama’s last-minute move to extend the umbrella of executive privilege raises the question of whether the president or his staff had extensive prior knowledge of the operation, because this privilege can only be invoked when the chief executive’s office is involved. – Washington Times

The political feud between the White House and congressional Republicans has now culminated in a House oversight committee vote to cite Attorney General Eric Holder for criminal contempt. His supposed crime is failing to hand over some documents in an investigation of a botched gunrunning sting operation known as Fast and Furious. The Republicans shamelessly turned what should be a routine matter into a pointless constitutional confrontation. And the White House responded as most administrations do at some point: It invoked executive privilege to make a political problem go away. There was no reason the House committee and the Justice Department could not work out a deal to produce the documents requested, or some form of them. Instead, they show again that every issue, large or small, can be turned into ammunition for political combat. – New York Times

Did Clemens, Edwards benefit from tea party thinking?

This week’s acquittal of Roger Clemens in a federal perjury case followed the mistrial in the federal case against John Edwards, the former presidential candidate accused of campaign-finance misdeeds related to a mistress. Why couldn’t the Justice Department make either case? “Jurors could be sending a message to Washington they don’t like the awesome firepower of the Justice Department brought to bear on borderline cases without an obvious victim,” suggested Forbes senior editor Daniel Fisher. He wrote: “The jurors in the Clemens case, as with Edwards before them, might be reacting to a core idea in constitutional law which is playing out in slightly different form in the Obamacare debate. What is the extent of federal power?”

Farm bill among bipartisan exceptions

A Politico story headlined, “Don’t look now, but the Senate’s actually working,” highlighted recent bipartisan progress in the chamber on bills addressing highways, ethics, the U.S. Postal Service and violence against women. “The committees are introducing bills; they’re moving to the floor; and leaders are allowing amendments – it’s like a lesson out of ‘Schoolhouse Rock,’ if you can ignore for a moment the constant partisan wrestling over the airwaves,” Politico reported. The article noted how Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas worked with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to allow votes on dozens of amendments leading up to Thursday’s passage of the farm bill. Asked how the deal came together, Roberts said: “Great leadership from Stabenow and Roberts.”

Executive privilege is in the eye of the partisan

Whether members of Congress complain about the use of executive privilege seems to depend on whether they are members of the same political party as the president. Democrats threw a fit when the George W. Bush administration repeatedly asserted the privilege, while Republicans hardly said a peep. Now that President Obama has used it for the first time regarding the Fast and Furious operation by the U.S. Justice Department, Republicans are up in arms while Democrats are defending the president and Attorney General Eric Holder (in photo). Three of Kansas’ GOP House members (none of whom was in office during the Bush administration) are among the Republicans now complaining. “Invoking executive privilege has now made the president, not just his attorney general, party to the stonewalling of Congress,” Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said in a statement. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, said: “The American public deserves transparency and confidence that any administration, regardless of party, will operate in a straightforward fashion.” Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, expressed support for a GOP-controlled House panel’s vote Wednesday to cite Holder for contempt: “I look forward to the opportunity to show my support for the contempt measure when it comes before the entire House in the next week.”

O’Neal predicts new maps will favor Republicans

House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, is still grousing about redistricting – even though he shoulders much of the blame for the Legislature’s failure to approve new maps. In an e-mail to House Republicans this week, O’Neal complained that the three federal judges who drew new district maps “were not the least bit interested in incumbents.” But he also predicted that “the House map drawn by the court will favor Republicans in November,” and he considered it positive that more House members are running for the Senate because of boundary changes. “The Senate will rue the day they held up the House map,” he wrote.

Dubious, bogus and utterly phony headlines

The following satirical headlines come from borowitzreport.com and theonion.com:

Struggling to Fill No. 2 Post, al-Qaida Resorts to LinkedIn

Quick-Lube Shop Masters Electronic Record Keeping Six Years Before Medical Industry

Romney Spends Most of Factory Visit Yelling at Employees to Work Harder

Governor Too Embarrassed to Say Which State He Leads

Canada Bracing for Massive Influx of Wisconsin Boat People

New Apple Devices Will Make It Even Easier to Ignore Your Family

What if tax experiment doesn’t work?

A group of former GOP lawmakers called on Gov. Sam Brownback to explain comments he made this week on the MSNBC talk show “Morning Joe.” After describing his tax-cut plan, Brownback said: “We’ll see how it works. We’ll have a real live experiment” – noting analysts will be able to compare how Kansas performs economically to area states that didn’t cut taxes. Rochelle Chronister, spokeswoman for Traditional Republicans for Common Sense, applauded Brownback for admitting the experimental nature of his tax plan. “Unfortunately,” she said, “this ‘experiment’ will bankrupt our state.” Chronister said the question that Brownback still needs to answer is: “How are we going to pay for this plan?”

Politicians need to be careful about autobiographies

A new book by David Maraniss of the Washington Post documents mistakes and distortions in President Obama’s memoir, “Dreams From My Father.” Some of this already has been reported, such as Obama’s accounts of a girlfriend in New York City who actually lived in Chicago. Washington Post reporters also found that Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., whose autobiography came out this week, embellished accounts of his parents’ emigration from Cuba.