Open thread (April 18)

thread3

Brownback should veto bill giving state control of Medicare

praeger“To include Medicare into an attempt to make political statements about the Affordable Care Act, I think, is wrong,”  said Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger (in photo). It is wrong. Yet House Bill 2553 would give the state control of all federal health care programs, subject to congressional approval, including Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Brownback needs to veto the bill, which is being promoted by an out-of-state group, and not jeopardize the health care of senior citizens. Praeger also cautioned that there could be political consequences if Brownback signs the bill: “I would be very nervous if I were running in a statewide campaign about making that bloc of seniors upset.”

On social media policy, regents should listen to faculty

mortarboardSurely the Kansas Board of Regents didn’t expect a work group of university professors and other personnel to endorse its sweeping, punitive policy to make faculty’s use of social media a potential firing offense if it is “contrary to the best interests of the university.” The work group, which was asked in January to make recommendations about the controversial new policy, came back with a response that affirmed academic freedom and safeguarded free speech. Eighty distinguished professors from regents universities endorsed the group’s advisory revision and inclusive, scholarly process. Yet at a Wednesday committee meeting, some regents’ initial reaction to the work group’s version was unduly hostile – and also tone-deaf to the national uproar the board’s overreaching policy had created. “Someplace this train got off the tracks,” regent Tim Emert said of the group’s work. “If any professor gave an assignment and the student came back with something completely different, the grade would not be very good.” Are the regents so intent on ensuring that universities can discipline and dump professors for tweets and Facebook posts that they are now willing to dismiss the concerns and work of dozens of university faculty members and the criticism of the American Association of University Professors, as well as chill academic speech and inquiry? Adding language saying the board “strongly supports principles of academic freedom,” as the regents have proposed, doesn’t help if the rest of the policy says otherwise.

Open thread (April 17)

thread4

Brownback: Get off the fence on due-process rights

bbackwinWhy won’t Gov. Sam Brownback say whether he supports eliminating due-process rights for public school teachers? He’s been riding the fence since the Legislature passed a school-finance bill that strips teachers of these rights. If he supports that, he should say so. If he doesn’t, he should also say so – and then take action, by either vetoing the bill or demanding that legislators repeal the provision when they return to Topeka on April 30.

Rumored Sebelius challenge of Roberts is far-fetched

sebeliushandsupThere was a time when Kathleen Sebelius might have successfully challenged Kansas Republicans’ ownership of both U.S. Senate seats, which dates from 1939. That was early in her second term as governor in 2007-08, when her approval ratings averaged 66 percent (compared with the average 52 percent during the same period of Sen. Pat Roberts and 48 percent of then-Sen. Sam Brownback). But the new talk of a run by Sebelius against Roberts is far-fetched. “One person who spoke directly to Ms. Sebelius said that she was thinking about it, but added that it was too soon to say how seriously she was taking the idea,” the New York Times reported. Now, thanks to her just-ended service in President Obama’s Cabinet and responsibility for the Affordable Care Act as secretary of health and human services, Sebelius is as unpopular in Kansas as in the rest of the nation. A Public Policy Polling survey of Kansans in February found that Roberts would beat Sebelius 52 to 38 percent. It even found that Sebelius would lose by 7 percentage points to Roberts’ tea party challenger, Milton Wolf. To get into the race, she also would have to elbow aside Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, the declared Democrat.

Open thread (April 16)

thread

Encouraging deficit news, but debts still mounting

BudgetDeficitThe federal budget deficit is projected to fall to $492 billion this fiscal year, or 2.8 percent of the gross domestic product, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office. That’s lower than the 3.1 percent average of the past 40 years, and almost 32 percent lower than last fiscal year. “This will be the fifth consecutive year in which the deficit has declined as a share of GDP since peaking at 9.8 percent in 2009,” the CBO report said. But lawmakers and President Obama shouldn’t stop being concerned. Though the deficit is expected to drop again next year, it is projected to rise sharply after that. And even when the deficit is declining, it is still adding to the national debt, which now totals more than $17.5 trillion.

Sebelius’ resignation inspires late-night jokes

Sebelius State of the Union DemocratsSome late-night comedy shows have gleefully noted Kathleen Sebelius’ exit from President Obama’s Cabinet. “After handling the bumpy rollout of the Obamacare site, Kathleen Sebelius announced today that she is resigning. Which explains why being thrown under a bus is now covered by Obamacare,” said Jimmy Fallon. “It’s no secret that the Obamacare website had some problems, but I think you could tell all those glitches and mistakes are behind Sebelius,” he said, introducing the clip of Sebelius realizing her prepared remarks were missing a page. “How do you botch your farewell speech?” Fallon concluded. And “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live” included this, delivered by Cecily Strong: “It was announced Thursday that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversaw the troubled launch of the Affordable Care Act, is resigning from office. Sebelius says she’s stepping down because she has so many more things she wants to barely accomplish.”

Open thread (April 15)

taxreturn

Paying less to Kansas but more to IRS

taxrevenueFormer state budget director Duane Goossen recently noted one little-discussed consequence of Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012-13 tax cuts: “When Kansans file their federal income-tax returns, they can deduct the amount they pay in state income taxes from their federal taxable income. So if a person’s state income-tax bill goes down by $1,000, their federal taxable income goes up by $1,000 because they lose the deduction,” he wrote on his blog for the Kansas Health Institute, where he is vice president for fiscal and health policy. He also wrote: “At a time when many Kansas lawmakers have been reluctant to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid eligibility, Kansas tax policy allows state dollars to flow the other way.”

Let world know there’s no place like Kansas

keeperbridge“There’s No Place Like Kansas” is a nice variation on the “Wizard of Oz” line and a good slogan for promoting Kansas tourism. More than 32 million people visit Kansas annually, generating $8 billion in expenditures, according to a news release from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. But Kansas has the potential to attract even more visitors. As Gov. Sam Brownback noted when he was in Wichita last week kicking off the new tourism campaign: “Kansas is a special place and we know it. Now we have to tell the rest of the world about it.”

Clinton and Boeing had ‘mutually beneficial relationship’

Pakistan USHillary Clinton and Boeing shared a “mutually beneficial relationship” while she was U.S. secretary of state, the Washington Post reported. For example, Clinton pressed Russian government officials in 2009 to buy dozens of Boeing aircraft. Two months after Boeing won that contract, it announced a $900,000 contribution to the William J. Clinton Foundation to rebuild schools in Haiti. “Clinton functioned as a powerful ally for Boeing’s business interests at home and abroad, while Boeing has invested resources in causes beneficial to Clinton’s public and political image,” the Post reported.

Open thread (April 14)

thread

House curbed teachers’ rights, then heard jewelry pitch

capitoldomeThere was an awkward moment in the minutes after the Kansas House vote to approve the school-funding bill, observed by the dozens of teachers in the gallery who’d just lost their due-process rights: Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, made an upbeat pitch to his colleagues that there was now a jeweler in the House (Rep. Steve Anthimides, R-Wichita) and they should check out the options for legislative bling. Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss observed: “After stripping teachers of their tenure, legislators had a brief discussion about jewelry…. Remove tenure and buy a ring. Makes all kinds of sense, doesn’t it?”

DeBacker’s expertise, enthusiasm will be missed

Gratitude and best wishes are due Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker upon her resignation to become an adviser to the director general of the Abu Dhabi Education Council in the United Arab Emirates. In her five years in the state’s top job in K-12 public education, DeBacker demonstrated a keen understanding of the complexities of education policy and policymaking as well as an enthusiasm for taking Kansas to the challenging next level on academic standards and student achievement.

Open thread (April 13)

spring

Delay in alerting residents to water pollution is outrageous

waterfaucetWhat’s even more alarming than the report that the groundwater in several northwest Wichita neighborhoods is contaminated is the news that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment discovered the pollution in 2009. Why didn’t KDHE tell residents about the pollution sooner? Funding used for testing private wells wasn’t made available through the KDHE’s Dry Cleaning Remediation Program until earlier this year. So some residents have been drinking and bathing in potentially cancer-causing water for the past four years because KDHE couldn’t scrape up some money to test a few more wells? That’s outrageous.

GOP candidates support state takeover of Medicare

doctormedicareNot only did the Legislature approve a bill that could put the state in charge of Medicare, but all of the GOP candidates for Kansas insurance commissioner think it is a good idea. Seriously? At a forum in Wichita last week, the four Republican candidates said they supported Kansas joining a compact of states seeking to exempt themselves from federal health care rules. Though their comments focused on the Affordable Care Act, House Bill 2553 would give the state control of all federal health care programs, subject to congressional approval, including Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Sandy Praeger, the state’s current insurance commissioner (does she really have to retire?), warned that a state takeover of Medicare “could jeopardize the coverage and benefits that seniors have come to count on.” Senior citizens need to call Gov. Sam Brownback at 877-579-6757 or contact him through his website at governor.ks.gov and tell him to veto House Bill 2553. They, and all other Kansans, also need to think carefully about whom to vote for in upcoming elections.

Some relief for Kansans in seeing Sebelius go

sebeliustestifyFor Kansans who felt some guilt by association during the worst of the passage and rollout of the Affordable Care Act, there is some relief in seeing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius step down. The former Kansas governor was a smart choice for the key Cabinet post in 2009 because of her experience and her passion for health care policymaking and commitment to covering the uninsured. And Sebelius exits with ACA enrollment at 7.5 million – more than the target. But what an ordeal, including that appalling initial flop of the HealthCare.gov website. Any benefit for Kansas from her status was lost to partisanship, as Republican Gov. Sam Brownback wanted nothing to do with the ACA. Sebelius’ resume is now tarnished and her political career is surely over. Perhaps she will write a book about her experience at the center of the biggest political storm of the Obama presidency. It’s hard to believe now that Sebelius, as governor, had approval ratings in Kansas as high as 70 percent back in 2007.

So they said

huelskamp“What difference does it make?” – U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (in photo), R-Fowler, calling the House-passed budget blueprint crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a “ceremonial bill” (though Huelskamp voted for it)

“Brownback, see me after class!” – among the messages on signs carried by schoolteachers at the Capitol last weekend

“They took out a dozen of us. It was very personal and extremely dishonest. That’s the kind of thing that went on, and now it’s coming back to roost.” – former state Sen. Dick Kelsey, in a Politico Pro story about the 2012 purge of centrist GOP senators

“Yeah, it happens all the time.” – Secretary of State Kris Kobach, to a Florida radio host’s suggestion that “widows are voting for their dead husbands”

Open thread (April 12)

thread-comm

Pro-con: Does Sebelius leave a positive legacy?

sebeliuslaughingImplementing Obamacare was never going to be easy. And Kathleen Sebelius never had the kind of control a chief executive officer would. She was always dealing with a host of other players. And that’s to say nothing of her war with the congressional Republicans, who were trying actively to sabotage the law through repeal votes, funding cuts, and intimidation of would-be allies. More important, the law seems to be working, despite all of the early problems. Of course, Sebelius can’t take all or even most of the credit for the Affordable Care Act’s improved performance, any more than she should take all or most of the blame for the law’s troubles. Any accounting of her tenure must include such achievements (and others, like improvements to Head Start and stronger regulations on child care safety). To take one obvious example, Sebelius worked extensively with Republican governors who wanted to expand Medicaid in states with hostile conservative constituencies. The memories of Obamacare’s difficult start will certainly linger. But to the millions of people around the country who now have access to affordable medical care, I’m not sure that really matters. – Jonathan Cohn, the New Republic

It’s been quite a year for the former Kansas governor. October brought the failed launch of the HealthCare.gov website, which Sebelius initially characterized as simply the result of surging consumer demand for Obamacare and a “great problem to have.” December brought more embarrassing news as Sebelius waived the law’s individual mandate to buy insurance by categorizing Obamacare itself as a hardship worthy of exemption. This was just one of many on-the-fly rewrites the administration claimed the authority to make under a law passed by Congress and signed by the president. Though she is leaving now, her legacy is secure, as her name adorns several of the most consequential federal cases resulting from the law. Her resignation doesn’t change the fact that Democrats will remain politically accountable for a law sold on a fraudulent promise from President Obama. But this latest news does mean that not even the secretary of health and human services will get to keep her insurance plan. – James Freeman, Wall Street Journal

Reid keeping up criticism of Koch brothers

reidharrySenate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is keeping up his onslaught against the Koch brothers. This week he noted how Koch Industries benefited from a temporary provision of the Affordable Care Act while groups backed by the brothers have been attacking members of Congress who supported the ACA. “If the Affordable Care Act is so awful,” Reid asked, “why did Koch Industries use it to their advantage?” According to federal records, Koch Industries received $1.4 million to subsidize its costs for workers who retire before they become eligible for Medicare. Reid also suggested that GOP senators start wearing ties and jackets with the Koch Industries logo, like the patches on NASCAR uniforms. But even some Democrats are tiring of Reid’s tirades. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., complained that “this type of rhetoric does not help us move this country or move the agenda forward.”

Open thread (April 11)

wichitaopenthread