Monthly Archives: October 2013

Sebelius hearing kept detouring to Oz

Kansas just can’t shake the “Wizard of Oz” connection, which several members of Congress made during Wednesday’s House testimony by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Madame Secretary, while you’re from Kansas, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Some might say that we are actually in the Wizard of Oz land, given the parallel universes we appear to be habitating,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. After a couple of other strained allusions, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, suggested those not from Kansas shouldn’t do Oz allegories. But “those folks worked awfully hard to go down the yellow brick road,” Pompeo said. “At the end of the day when they got there and pulled back the curtain, they found there was nothing that they didn’t already have. And as we pull back the curtain on the Affordable Care Act, I think people are finding that it’s not exactly what they’re going to have worked so hard to find their way to as well.” Responding to Twitter grumbling from Kansans about the “Oz” mentions, NBC News associate producer Ali Weinberg tweeted: “Listen, Kansas – if NJ has to tolerate ‘oh, JOISEY’ all the time, you guys have to tolerate Wizard of Oz references from out-of-staters.”

Open thread (Oct. 31)

NSA director had an ‘attaboy’ for Pompeo

During a Tuesday hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, the National Security Agency’s director, Gen. Keith Alexander, gave Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, a rave review for one of his TV appearances a few months ago, when the congressman stood out from some of his colleagues for defending NSA surveillance and its congressional oversight. “When everybody was slamming something, saying ‘I didn’t know about A,’ ‘I didn’t know about B,’” Alexander told Pompeo, “you stepped forward and said, ‘I did. We looked at it. We did this right,’ and even though it was unpopular to do…. You and other members of the committee have all stood up and done that, and I think that’s huge, and what our nation expects of our congressional members and us.”

People wanted to make things right for veteran

The Veterans Affairs system is supposed to ensure that those who risk life and limb defending their fellow Americans do not face financial ruin once they return home. So it was heartbreaking to read in the Sunday Eagle about the foreclosure worries of 44-year-old Wellington homeowner Jerrod Hays, who was severely wounded serving in Iraq in 2007 with the Kansas National Guard and called the prospects of losing his home “worse than getting blown up.” The Eagle’s reporting brought an outpouring of concern and offers to help Hays and his family. And this week Hays learned that the VA had approved him for 100 percent disability status, which will boost his income, and that his mortgage lender is working with him on a solution. Hays’ story and its public reception confirm the willingness of people to step up to help make things right for our veterans. But what about all the others whose stories are going untold? The VA system needs to reliable for them, too.

School spending percentage headed for record low

Gov. Sam Brownback boasted in a commentary in Sunday’s Eagle that state spending on K-12 education has increased more than $200 million since he was elected. He omitted the fact that the increased funding went to the state pension plan and that base per-pupil funding has dropped dramatically during his tenure. School finance as a percentage of Kansas personal income also has dropped and is expected to hit its lowest level in history next year, according to John Heim, executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards. “We are spending less than our parents spent on educating us and our grandparents spent on educating them,” Heim said.

Open thread (Oct. 30)

Dubious, bogus and utterly phony headlines

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

NSA Promises to Stop Getting Caught Spying on Allies
Nation That Waited Decades to Pass Health Care Reform Infuriated by Slow Website
White House Thrilled With Record Number of People Who Thought They Signed Up for Health Care
Snowden Offers to Fix HealthCare.gov
Boehner Hoping to Remain Leader of Republican Parties
Josh Freeman Takes on Leadership Role to Help Vikings Find Franchise Quarterback

Apology doesn’t make Obamacare website work any better

Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, apologized today for the rollout of the Obamacare website. “To the millions of Americans who’ve attempted to use HealthCare.gov to shop and enroll in health care coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should,” she said at a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee. Republicans blasted the Obama administration and argued that even if the website can be fixed, Obamacare can’t. Democrats countered that GOP concerns about the website are phony. “Democrats want to make the Affordable Care Act work; congressional Republicans don’t,” said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich.

Open thread (Oct. 29)

Davis polling well with moderate Kansans

In order for someone like Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis (in photo), D-Lawrence, to defeat Gov. Sam Brownback in next year’s gubernatorial race, he would need to get the support of moderate Republicans. A SurveyUSA poll, sponsored by KWCH, Channel 12, indicated that Davis might have a shot. Of the self-identified moderates surveyed, only 28 percent said they would vote for Brownback if the election were today, while 58 percent picked Davis. Of the total 511 registered voters surveyed, 43 percent said they would vote for Davis and running mate Jill Docking; 39 percent favored Brownback and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer. Brownback trailed Davis in each racial category of voters, and the only geographic area where Brownback led Davis was western Kansas (53 to 30 percent). Brownback also led among voters with only a high school degree but trailed Davis among all other voters.

Could sequestration endanger bioscience lab?

A New York Times article on the political realities of the federal government’s automatic spending cuts indicated that the planned National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan could be jeopardized. “The $1 billion project’s first big infusion, $404 million, will happen only if sequestration can be undone,” the article said, noting that this could put political pressure on Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran.

‘SNL’ sends up Sebelius

Making her time in the political hot seat complete, former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (in photo) got the “Saturday Night Live” treatment over the weekend. Cast member Kate McKinnon opened the show as the health and human services secretary, offering “friendly tips” to deal with the Obamacare website’s technical woes. “Have you tried restarting your computer?” she asked, also suggesting enrollees sign up in Icelandic or another language. “Sebelius” also endorsed the site’s “helpful” links (including to “doctor-themed pornographic websites”) and “frequently asked questions” page, including “How have I been on the same page for three hours?” and “Does Obamacare cover mental health issues caused by using this website?” Before being interrupted by her own ill-timed glitch, she said: “So enjoy your new health care system, America, and be sure to ‘like’ us on Facebook. Oh, look at that. We’re already up to three ‘likes.’”

Open thread (Oct. 28)

Could water planning be Brownback’s legacy?

To his credit, Gov. Sam Brownback continues to press for visionary action on water, calling last week for administration officials and community and business leaders to come together on a 50-year plan by next November. Speaking at the Governor’s Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas in Manhattan, he singled out sustaining the Ogallala Aquifer and the state reservoirs as “top-of-the-barrel” challenges. “This is not to cast aspersions on anybody,” the governor said, according to the Salina Journal. “This is where we are. Work together and work it out. We have to solve a problem.” Solving that problem would make water planning rival tax cutting as Brownback’s legacy.

At least Obamacare site is good for laughs

“Only 12 percent of Americans think the rollout of Obamacare is going well, while 100 percent of Republicans think the rollout of Obamacare is going great.” – Jimmy Fallon

“A 25-year-old man in New York was arrested for trying to join al-Qaida. Here’s the amazing part: He said it was easier to join al-Qaida using their website than it was to sign up for Obamacare.” – Jay Leno

“President Obama is urging Americans who are having trouble with the Obamacare website to sign up for health care by calling a 1-800 number. The number is 1-800-we-didn’t-think-this-through.” – Conan O’Brien

“You can wait for them to get the site fixed or you can enroll in medical school, graduate and then just take care of yourself, which would probably be faster.” – Jimmy Kimmel

Open thread (Oct. 27)

One area ballot uncounted due to voting law

Before local elections were held Oct. 8 on proposed funding projects, more than 100 voter registrations in Derby and nearly a dozen in Colwich were “in suspense” for lack of proof-of-citizenship documents, among more than 18,000 such registrations statewide. The individuals had been contacted multiple times, according to the Sedgwick County Election Commissioner’s Office. In the end, according to Deputy Election Commissioner Sandra Gritz, “there was only one provisional ballot due to lack of a citizenship document” in the area elections – meaning the would-be voter’s ballot didn’t count.

Stable funding for Exploration Place welcome

Good for the Sedgwick County Commission for approving a five-year funding agreement last week for Exploration Place, which will enable it to count on receiving more than $11.4 million through 2018 – and to plan accordingly. The 13-year-old attraction has weathered some uncertainty and funding cuts, but has found stability and strong attendance under president Jan Luth. It’s hard to imagine the community without Exploration Place’s fanciful and enlightening exhibits, or iconic presence on the Arkansas River.

Wichita among Kansas capitals for STDs

“Nearly three-fourths of reported cases of gonorrhea in Kansas occur in just three areas – Wichita, metropolitan Kansas City and Topeka,” the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Of the 4,447 cases of gonorrhea statewide during the past two years, 1,654 were in Sedgwick County, 724 in Wyandotte County, 377 in Johnson County and 437 in Shawnee County. The cases of chlamydia weren’t as concentrated, with the four counties accounting for 35 percent of the 21,740 cases statewide: Sedgwick (5,535), Wyandotte (2,369), Johnson (2,782) and Shawnee (1,624). These are the state’s most-populous counties, so you would expect more cases of sexually transmitted diseases there. Some smaller counties actually have higher rates of STDs. For example, in 2012 Sedgwick County’s chlamydia rate per 100,000 people was 566. Counties with higher rates were Wyandotte (747), Geary (762), McPherson (679) and Riley (574).

Pro-con: Should Kathleen Sebelius be fired?

Every day brings new stories of the Obamacare site’s near-complete unworkability, while the Obama administration responds with fantastic don’t-be-concerned counterclaims. Huge problems are downplayed, and brazen promises are made that the behemoth program’s complex and convoluted software will be quickly and easily fixed. Baloney. Most Americans, especially those most in need of health care right now, don’t believe the excuses and promises. They never believed in Obamacare. And now they know it isn’t working. Any corporate executive charged with launching a product that flopped this spectacularly would be held accountable and fired. That’s exactly what has to happen to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. She has to go. Now. Join us in calling for the president to hold Sebelius accountable for her gross incompetence and her misspending of taxpayers’ billions. – National Review

Just as the healthcare.gov website is not the Affordable Care Act, so ending Sebelius’ tenure at HHS is not the same thing as fixing the problems. And while it’s tempting perhaps even for Democrats to agree that new blood at HHS can only help, there are two things you need to keep in mind: Republicans are in no way interested in actually fixing healthcare.gov or replacing Sebelius. As the announcement of Rand Paul’s “hold” on the nomination of Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve should remind you, the more likely strategy here is that Republicans will attempt to block the nomination of any replacement at HHS. That keeps the agency leaderless at a critical moment, and prolongs the exploitable life span of the website issue. No, collecting Sebelius’ scalp won’t make the website work right. But it will give Republicans a chance to try to cripple HHS – and who knows how many of its programs that might require secretary-level reports, approvals and other determinations – causing even more disruptions, which they can then attack as “failures” of the Obama administration. – David Waldman, Daily Kos

Open thread (Oct. 26)

Can rural Kansas stop population slide?

A Wall Street Journal article on efforts to stem rural depopulation looked at the experience of Kansas’ Greeley County, where population has increased 4 percent in the past two years (to 1,298) after a 30-year slide. It noted that officials are “trying everything from keeping the local movie theater open with volunteers to consolidating government and hitching onto a state program that offers student-loan payoffs and tax deductions for people who relocate” – Kansas’ 2-year-old Rural Opportunity Zone program, which reportedly has 600 participating residents of 73 rural counties, including 19 in Greeley County. Christy Hopkins, the county’s community development director, told the Journal: “Forecasters for some time have said – you guys are destined to fail. We know it’s taking time, and we’re not saying we have it all figured out, but we’re on a path.” But Kansas State University associate professor Laszlo Kulcsar had a gloomier view of the future for rural communities, telling the Journal: “I think we’re in for 10 more years of denial. After the next census, there is going to be a really rude awakening.”

Pompeo and Huelskamp want Sebelius gone

Targeting a fellow Kansan in their case, Reps. Mike Pompeo of Wichita and Tim Huelskamp of Fowler were among 32 House Republicans who signed a letter Wednesday asking President Obama to fire Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over the “fiasco that is HealthCare.gov.” They also wrote: “You can send a powerful signal that the American people will not be held responsible for her department’s failures.”

Open thread (Oct. 25)

ACA will continue to face challenges

The Affordable Care Act has survived GOP attempts to defund and delay it. But a new study co-authored by Sheila P. Burke, who was chief of staff and top health care adviser to former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, notes some potential policy flaws of the ACA. One is that the tax penalty for people who don’t buy insurance isn’t high enough. That could lead to “adverse selection,” in which sick people buy insurance from the marketplace but not enough healthy people do so to spread out the costs. Some states with Republican governors, such as Kansas, also may set up obstacles to the ACA.