Open thread (April 21)

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States fighting ACA lag in reducing uninsured rates

Doctor Speaking with PatientStates that created their own insurance exchanges and allowed an expansion of Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act were three times more successful in reducing their percentages of uninsured citizens than states such as Kansas that did neither, according to a new Gallup survey. “The uninsured rate, on average, declined 2.5 percentage points in the 21 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have implemented both of these measures, compared with a 0.8-point drop across the 29 states that have taken only one or neither of these actions,” Gallup reported. An estimated 75,000-plus Kansans would qualify for health insurance if Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature allowed the Medicaid expansion.

GOP hatred of Obamacare may pay off at polls

healthunclesamA recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that only Republicans support repealing the Affordable Care Act; a majority of Democrats and independents (and 59 percent of those surveyed overall) favor keeping the law in place and improving it. Also, only Republicans want the debate about the ACA to continue, while everyone else wants the country to focus more on other issues. But don’t expect the debate (and certainly not the campaign ads) to stop anytime soon. That’s because Republicans are passionate in their hatred of the ACA, according to a Pew Research Center poll, and thus are more likely than Democrats and independents to vote in the midterm elections.

Open thread (April 20)

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In Olathe and elsewhere, more taxing authority won’t offset cuts

schoolmoneyKansas City Star columnist Steve Rose praised the school-finance bill because “Johnson County schools finally got more local control,” predicting the Shawnee Mission, Olathe and Blue Valley districts will take advantage of how the legislation enables them to raise local property taxes. But the Star also reported that extra local taxing authority won’t offset years of cuts. Shawnee Mission gains $3.3 million from the bill but had to cut its spending by $28 million from 2009 to 2012. Blue Valley, where cuts have totaled $11 million, could see $3 million more because of the bill, while Olathe’s $6 million gain compares with $25 million in recent cuts. Olathe superintendent Marlin Berry told the Star the greater taxing authority is “a very small step” toward what’s needed for classrooms and staff.

Help mentally ill by expanding Medicaid

mentalhealthGov. Sam Brownback’s mental health task force made some good recommendations last week on improving the state’s mental health system, such as having the state offer financial support to preschool and early childhood behavioral health care programs and doing a better job integrating services. But the most cost-effective improvement the state could make is allowing the federal expansion of Medicaid. The expansion, which would be fully paid for by the federal government for the first three years and nearly fully funded after that, would enable thousands of Kansans to receive mental health treatment in their communities.

So they said

huelskamp,tim“Part of the problem with Washington is it’s April, and Washington somehow thinks the election is, like, next week.” – Rep. Tim Huelskamp (in photo), R-Fowler, in the Hill, complaining about GOP leaders’ foot-dragging on their alternative to the Affordable Care Act

“Today it was reported that: Kathleen Sebelius wants to return to Kansas and run for our U.S. Senate seat…. We need your financial support to resist Obama’s attempt to send his former Cabinet member back to Kansas to run for the U.S. Senate and ensure he understands that her liberal message is not welcome in our state!” – Kansas Republican Party e-mail pitch Wednesday asking for $5 or $10 contributions

“This is not your father’s Kathleen Sebelius, the competent governor who stressed her moderation, pragmatism and Kansas connections.” – Roll Call’s Stu Rothenberg, discounting her rumored run for U.S. Senate before Sebelius ruled it out

Open thread (April 19)

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Kansas Democrats ‘just don’t win federal statewide races’

gopvoteIn pondering the gossip about a possible Kathleen Sebelius run for U.S. Senate, the FiveThirtyEight website noted the state’s “ruby-red” voting record: “The last time a Democrat was elected to the Senate from Kansas was 1932. That’s not only the longest drought for the party, it’s by far the longest winless streak. (The next longest drought for Democrats is in Wyoming, where they haven’t won a Senate seat since 1970.) Democrats have lost 29 consecutive Senate races in Kansas, and they just don’t win federal statewide races. Since 1940, Lyndon Johnson, in 1964, was the only Democratic presidential nominee to win in the Sunflower State.”

Public prefers small-ball politics to big ideas

donkeyelephantfight“Americans say they want politicians to tackle the big issues and get things done… Yet almost every time elected officials have tried bold problem-solving in the past 20 years, it has produced a backlash against them,” wrote columnist Ramesh Ponnuru. “The more ambitious the attempt, the worse the political repercussions have been.” He concluded that activists with far-reaching agendas should pull the reins on their ambitions and “people considering running for office should know that politics, for the foreseeable future, is probably not going to be much fun.”

Open thread (April 18)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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?”