Author Archives: Phillip Brownlee

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.”

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

Now even harder for GOP to repeal Obamacare

healthcaregovpageThe more than 7 million Americans who signed up for Obamacare (along with millions more who gained insurance through their parents or through expanded Medicaid) make “it highly unlikely that Republicans will be able to deliver on their promise to repeal the law,” columnist Doyle McManus wrote. It would be very hard to take insurance away from that many people. But, McManus wrote, “that doesn’t mean Obamacare is guaranteed to succeed. The program still faces a series of difficult tests – most important, keeping costs under control so insurance premiums don’t soar in coming years.”

Pompeo convinced that GM foods are safe, needed

food“The science is clear” that genetically modified foods are safe, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, told The Eagle editorial board. Pompeo introduced a bill this week that would require that new GM foods be reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; currently, such review isn’t mandated. The bill also would give the FDA sole authority on whether to label GM foods – barring states from imposing their own regulations. Supporters of labeling argue that it informs consumers, but Pompeo contends that a patchwork of unscientific state regulations creates burdens and barriers for Kansas farmers. “It’s a big deal to our growers,” Pompeo said.

Shame on Legislature for undermining teachers’ rights

teacherShame on the GOP leaders of the Kansas Legislature for using a Kansas Supreme Court order on school-funding inequities as an excuse to undermine teachers’ rights and meddle in education policymaking. As our Tuesday editorial asked: Where was the love for schools as the Legislature voted to strip teachers of their due-process rights, subsidize private education with a corporate income-tax credit, and pass unproven ideological reforms while trampling on the policymaking responsibilities of the Kansas State Board of Education?

Reid wrong to call Kochs ‘un-American’

reidharry“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., broke down all barriers to protocol recently when he called the Kochs ‘un-American,’” columnist Kathleen Parker wrote. She acknowledged that “allowing the super-wealthy to disproportionately influence political outcomes may indeed be bad for the democratic process – and that’s of legitimate concern to all. But one’s eyes should be wide open when people are singled out as un-American.” Parker’s conclusion: “Reid owes the Kochs – and the American people – an apology.”

Kansas gets costs, not benefits, of expanded Medicaid

healthcaregovOne of the projected costs of expanding Medicaid is the “woodwork effect.” It refers to people already eligible for Medicaid who come “out of the woodwork” as they learn about the program. But this effect happens even in states such as Kansas that refuse to expand Medicaid, because of all the publicity about the Affordable Care Act. Kansas’ enrollment in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program increased to 415,284 in February, up more than 17,000, or 4.3 percent, from monthly averages before the launch of the ACA insurance marketplace. So Kansas’ costs are increasing, but it isn’t receiving the financial benefit of expanding Medicaid.

Butler Co. lawmakers backed effort to burn teachers

candidateIn a commentary headlined “Teachers get burned while Masterson gets a tan,” Kent Bush, publisher of the Butler County Times-Gazette, blasted area lawmakers for revoking due-process rights of public schoolteachers and for being puppets of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity. He particularly called out Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, who led the Senate negotiations before leaving for a family vacation. Bush described Masterson as a nice guy away from the state Senate. “But if you want someone to determine education policy, I can’t think of many people who would be worse,” Bush wrote. “Masterson has never made it a secret that he holds public schools in low regard – seeing them as ineffective and inefficient.”

Rhoades blames House education bill on ‘election year’

candidateRep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, is saying a bit more about his resignation last week as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He wrote in a blog post that he could only support adding significant funding to equalize school aid, as ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court, if it was tied to reforms aimed at improving education outcomes. But House leadership rejected several reforms in his initial bill, and he said “it was clear there was little appetite for allowing changes to the bill in committee.” Why didn’t the House bill include measurable education outcomes? “Because it’s an election year,” Rhoades wrote. Another possibility is that schools already are overloaded with educational measurements. The bill was supposed to fix an unconstitutional funding problem, not be a tool for ideological mandates.

Bill banning slots vote was unnecessary, overkill

slotsThe Kansas House wisely rejected a Senate bill Friday that would prohibit Sedgwick County from holding another vote on gambling until 2032. The bill was unnecessary and overkill, as the Legislature already controls whether county residents can revote on allowing slot machines at Wichita Greyhound Park. There is no need to ban another vote for 18 years. The bill also sends the message that lawmakers don’t care what locals think, now or in the future.

ACA working despite efforts of ‘haters’

healthcaregovpage“It has been obvious for some time now that the great fear among these politicians and conservative pundits was not that Obamacare would fail but that it would succeed,” wrote columnist Bob Ray Sanders. “I can only imagine how they must feel after watching people line up around the country Monday in an attempt to register for health care on the last day of enrollment, and to see the number of participants swell over the 7 million mark.”

Brownback wanted economy measured in ‘timely manner’

taxrevenueIn the commentary on today’s Opinion page, Stan Ahlerich, executive director of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors, argues that it is irresponsible to look only at “a narrow, short-term set of facts” when evaluating the state’s economy. But these facts are the very benchmarks that Gov. Sam Brownback and the council established to measure the state’s economy. And Brownback himself said two years ago that they should be used “to monitor in a timely manner if our policies and initiatives are having the desired economic effect.” Brownback also said that his tax cuts would act like “a shot of adrenaline to the heart” of the Kansas economy. That sounds like Kansas was supposed to see quick improvements – not see lower growth rates than the regional average on all but one of the measurements. Even when the past five years are compared, Kansas lags the regional average in nearly all the council’s benchmarks.

Legislature doesn’t want ACA to work in Kansas

healthcarereformEven after its disastrous rollout, the Affordable Care Act exceeded projections and enrolled 7.1 million Americans in private insurance plans by Monday’s deadline. This is on top of the more than 3 million adults younger than 26 who were added to their parents’ insurance plans, and on top of the millions who gained coverage through Medicaid expansion. “It’s working. It’s helping people from coast to coast,” President Obama said. But state GOP legislators are still determined to keep the ACA from helping low-income Kansans. The Kansas Senate voted last week to prohibit the state from expanding Medicaid unless the Legislature approves. And the House approved a bill to remove Kansas from the ACA (and potentially Medicare) and join a multistate compact.

Ditch legislative pay raise but curb pension perk

money-bagA proposal by Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, to more than double the pay of state lawmakers hasn’t gotten far this session – and understandably so. Lawmakers haven’t exactly shown themselves to be deserving of a pay raise. But one part of his proposal does deserve legislative action: ending the sweetheart deal lawmakers get in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. Lawmakers’ pensions are calculated as if they were paid every day of the year, not the typical 90-day session. What’s more, they can include their daily expense allotment in the calculation and any out-of-session expense payments (also pretending that both were paid every day of the year). Thus, even though the real salary of an average state lawmaker is $7,979, the pretend pay for KPERS can be $86,528. And then they complain about KPERS being underfunded.

Dubious, bogus and utterly phony headlines

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

Rep. Issa Subpoenas 7 Million Americans Who Signed Up for Obamacare

Putin Announces Historic G1 Summit

White House Sends Obama to 3-Day Management Seminar at Washington Marriott

Sheldon Adelson Says No Republican Candidate Worth Buying

College Senior Already Has Grueling 14-Month Employment Search Lined Up After Graduation

Single Mother Hogging 2 Jobs

Warren Buffett Offers $1 Billion for Dick Vitale to Shut Up

Legislature not helping attract more people to Kansas

capitoldomeThough Kansas needs to improve its economy in order to attract more citizens, it also needs to be a more welcoming state, wrote Chase M. Billingham, an assistant professor of sociology at Wichita State University. And the Legislature isn’t helping. “Legislative efforts to legitimate discrimination against lesbian and gay couples, to limit the voting power of racial and ethnic minorities, and to resist the full and equitable funding of the state’s public school districts send a message to Americans that Kansas is not a desirable destination,” Billingham wrote. “This public perception is likely to manifest itself in persistently depressed net domestic migration numbers for years to come.”

Kansas’ economy, employment lagging region

kansasgreetingsAnother report shows the Kansas economy is lagging, and this one can’t be dismissed by Gov. Sam Brownback’s supporters. That’s because it is from the governor’s own Council of Economic Advisors and is based on benchmarks established specifically to measure economic trends. The March 2014 report shows that in the past year Kansas grew less than regional states in population, gross state product, personal income, employment, private-industry wage level, private-business establishment and several other measurements. For example, Kansas’ private-sector employment growth rate was 0.9 percent compared with 1.5 percent for the six-state region (and 2.1 percent for the nation). Also, private-industry wage levels went down slightly in Kansas but up slightly in the region and nation. The only measure in which Kansas did better than the regional average last year was in the growth of building permits. In establishing the benchmarks two years ago, Brownback said they would enable the state “to monitor in a timely manner if our policies and initiatives are having the desired economic effect.” So far, the answer is “no.”

Obama wants to give America a raise

obamalibyaPresident Obama had a commentary in The Eagle Sunday arguing in favor of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. “Its effect would raise wages not just for minimum-wage workers, but for nearly 314,700 people in Kansas and 28 million Americans across our country,” Obama wrote. “It would lift millions out of poverty immediately, and help millions more work their way out of poverty, without requiring any new taxes or spending. It will give businesses more customers with more money to spend. It will grow the economy for everyone. That’s why nearly 3 in 4 Americans support raising the minimum wage.”