Category Archives: Congress

GOP establishment, tea party learned from elections

teasign“The differences between the tea party and ‘establishment Republicans’ have largely concerned style and attitude rather than program and ideology, and these are easily finessed – especially because moods change,” columnist Ramesh Ponnuru wrote. “That’s why tea party candidates have so far beaten only two incumbent Republican senators in primaries in the past three election cycles. Those elections unified the party in two ways. Establishment Republicans learned that they needed to sound more tea partyish. And the tea party learned something about electability: In both cases (Joe Miller over Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, Richard Mourdock over Richard Lugar in Indiana), its candidate went on to lose the general election.”

Congress hates to cut military spending

militarymoneyMembers of Congress come and go, but one thing never seems to change: Lawmakers hate to cut spending on military programs, weapons and equipment, no matter how outdated or ineffective. That’s particularly true if the spending is connected to their home districts. The House, including many tea party members and all four Kansas delegation members, defied the wishes of the Pentagon – and circumvented its own budget caps – by voting to maintain funding for the Cold War-era U-2 spy plane and the A-10 Warthog plane, to keep open several military bases, and to keep 11 Navy cruisers and an aircraft carrier in service. “Congress simply undid all of the department’s cost-saving measures and slashed readiness accounts without offering alternatives,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking minority member on the House Armed Services Committee.

Does Huelskamp doubt bigotry of segregation?

huelskamp,timGov. Sam Brownback and Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, shared a stage with first lady Michelle Obama at the event with high school graduates observing the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision ending school desegregation. Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius was on hand as well. Later, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, had this to say on the subject via social media: “@MichelleObama the real bigotry in America is towards people of faith. Ask your co-speaker Kathleen Sebelius about that.” The “real bigotry”? At least Huelskamp joined the rest of the Kansas House delegation and many other members of Congress in signing Jenkins’ letter to the superintendent of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site commemorating the anniversary and expressing the hope that the site “will continue to provide the opportunity for future generations to visit and take part in the search for justice and equality for all Americans.”

Dark money flooding this year’s campaigns

cashAt the current rate, unregulated and undisclosed “dark-money” spending on this year’s congressional elections could top $1 billion. “This is really a perfect storm of political spending,” Michael Toner, former head of the Federal Election Commission, told the Financial Times. The most prominent spenders are Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, which are both linked to the Koch brothers. In 2012, the Koch network was responsible for about 1 in 4 of the total dark-money dollars spent, according to the campaign-finance watchdog group Open Secrets.

USA Today: Roberts spent 97 days in Kansas in two years

robertsleftIn the latest development in the story that won’t go away for Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., USA Today reported Saturday that he “spent official funds to travel to Kansas 26 times over the course of two years, spending a total of 97 days in the state between July 2011 and August 2013, according to Senate spending records.” It’s possible that he may have used personal or campaign funds to spend more time in the state (Roberts’ offices wouldn’t respond to USA Today’s requests for comment). But compare Roberts with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who “spent official funds to log roughly 475 days in Kansas” during the same period, USA Today reported. Time spent in the state a senator represents is a legitimate re-election issue, but it’s hard to see many Kansas Republicans being so disgruntled over it as to choose tea party challenger Milton Wolf over the three-term senior senator.

Pompeo needs to keep Benghazi probe from being partisan circus

pompeo,mikeThe appointment of Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, to the special panel investigating Benghazi reflects how much GOP leadership respects him. As a Thursday editorial argued, he needs to do his best to ensure the probe is substantive and productive and not a partisan circus, as some earlier committee hearings have been. He should avoid partisan grandstanding and instead pursue the nonpartisan goals of justice for the killers and safer U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world.

Dole hasn’t given up on U.N. disability treaty

dolemugCharacteristically, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole didn’t give up after the U.S. Senate’s failure to ratify the United Nations treaty on disability rights in December 2012, when Dole visited the Senate floor in a wheelchair yet even fellow Kansans Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran voted “no.” When visiting Salina Tuesday, Dole told Kansas Public Radio that he and the White House are “working on some additional language” to allay some Republicans’ fears that the treaty could be a threat to the rights of homeschooling families. “When we get it all complete I’ll take it to Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran and try to get their support,” he said, suggesting it is two votes short of the necessary 67 and that another Senate vote could come July 21. That would be the day before Dole’s 91st birthday.

Now Hillary Clinton is to blame for kidnapped girls?

Pakistan USNot only are Republicans trying desperately to blame the Benghazi attack on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but some conservative commentators and lawmakers are now trying to blame her for the kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls (which happened 14 months after she left office). Seriously. The only connection they can point to is that the State Department didn’t put Boko Haram on its list of foreign terrorist organizations until 2013. But that’s been enough fuel for what Dana Milbank of the Washington Post described as “a textbook example of the anatomy of a smear.”

Reid wrong on Koch Industries’ role in climate change

kochindustriesSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., continued his rhetorical assault on the Koch brothers last week, later earning three Pinocchios from the Washington Post’s Fact Checker feature for claiming they “are one of the main causes” of climate change. Referring to a study by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Reid said Koch Industries ranked “as one of the nation’s biggest air and water polluters, period. In one year Koch Industries released 31 million pounds of toxic air. How much is that? It’s more than Dow Chemical, Exxon Mobil and General Electric combined emitted.” Not so, the Fact Checker found, noting the study puts Koch Industries 27th among polluters, that Dow and Exxon Mobil “actually had more than double the emissions of Koch Industries” and that Koch doesn’t even appear on global lists of the top carbon-emitting companies. The Fact Checker concluded: “We understand Reid’s overall point, but it’s important to stick to the facts when making such claims.” Meanwhile, Politico reported last week that the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity “intends to spend more than $125 million this year on an aggressive ground, air and data operation benefiting conservatives.” No wonder Reid is rattled.

Roberts shouldn’t overstate his status as a Kansas resident

robertsleftNational political observers have taken this week’s defeats for tea party challengers in North Carolina and Ohio as more good news for senators such as Pat Roberts, who faces a similar GOP insurgent in the August primary. Leawood radiologist Milton Wolf’s latest fight to oust Roberts from the ballot over his residency seems particularly desperate, considering the senator’s high profile at events around the state and enduring support in Kansas. Still, Roberts shouldn’t overstate his status as a Kansas resident, given the recent confirmation that he owns a home in Virginia, his voter registration is at a Dodge City donor’s house and that he rents out the Dodge City duplex he owns. It’s one thing to expect Kansans to accept that, as he recently said, “I’m a fourth-generation Kansan. Your home is where your heart is, and my heart is in Kansas.” It’s another thing to claim, as he also said, “I live in Dodge City.”

Moran is among the 10 most truant senators

morannewWhen National Journal checked the attendance records of current U.S. senators, it found they had missed an average 2.5 percent of roll call votes over their tenure. The bottom 10 included Sen. Jerry Moran (in photo), R-Kan., whose 6.5 percent made him less truant than only Sens. Marco Rubio (7.1 percent), R-Fla., and John McCain (10.5 percent), R-Ariz. (excluding the serious illness-related absences of Sens. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill). According to GovTrack.us, Moran missed 59 of 910 roll call votes from January 2011 through this month, including 20 this year. Moran told The Eagle editorial board Thursday that he has missed some votes because he tries to get back to Kansas every weekend to meet with constituents and to “be a good son to an aging parent.” He said he takes his job responsibilities very seriously and has held town hall meetings in all 105 counties in Kansas since becoming a senator. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has missed 2.4 percent of roll call votes over his three terms. The impressive records of the Kansans in the House, where the median of missed votes is 2.4 percent: Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, 0.5 percent; Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, both 0.6 percent; and Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, 0.9 percent.

Vote on Moritz gives Brownback a court seat to fill

moritzThree long years after the seat opened, a Kansan has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – Kansas Supreme Court Justice Nancy Moritz, with a vote of 90-3 on Monday. To their credit, Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran supported President Obama’s nomination of Moritz, with Moran calling her “well-prepared” and saying: “I am confident Nancy’s service on the 10th Circuit will be guided by the values we hold in Kansas, including empathy for others and respect for the rule of law.” Roberts and Moran inexplicably blocked Obama’s 2011 nomination to the seat of former Kansas Attorney General Steve Six, who also was well-qualified. But Moritz will be a great addition to the court; a Beloit native and Washburn University Law School graduate, she had experience as a federal prosecutor and coordinator of appellate cases for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas before Gov. Kathleen Sebelius appointed her to the Kansas Court of Appeals in 2004 and Gov. Mark Parkinson named her to the Supreme Court in 2011. Of course, Moritz’s confirmation also has a key benefit for Kansas Republicans – providing Gov. Sam Brownback with his first opportunity to name a member of the state Supreme Court.

Washington-style politics and lobbying moved to Kansas

lobbyistThe FBI probe into the fundraising and lobbying activities of associates of Gov. Sam Brownback made the New York Times. An article this week said that the tactics used by current and former staff members “underline the degree to which Washington-style politics and lobbying have taken root in state capitals.” Or as former Kansas Senate President Steve Morris put it: “K Street has moved to Kansas.”

Huelskamp thinks Benghazi worth $5 million reward

huelskampRep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, second to none in Congress in opposing federal spending, found one expenditure to endorse last week: a $5 million reward to anyone who could provide information about the Benghazi attacks on Sept. 11, 2012. Huelskamp is co-sponsoring legislation with Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, to mandate the reward through the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program. “By offering a substantial reward for information leading to the apprehension and prosecution of suspects in these attacks, this bill will help Americans learn the truth about Benghazi,” Huelskamp said in a statement.

Happy birthday to a third U.S. senator from Kansas

Wyden-0702508-18401- 0010In addition to Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, another Kansas native is serving in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Ron Wyden (in photo), D-Ore., was born in Wichita 65 years ago this Saturday while his father, Peter Wyden, was working for The Wichita Eagle. He would live in St. Louis, Chicago and Washington, D.C., before going to high school in Palo Alto, Calif. In 1996 Wyden moved from the House to the Senate; he became chairman of the Senate Finance Committee this year. There were four U.S. senators from Kansas until Arlen Specter, who was also born in Wichita, lost his re-election bid in Pennsylvania in 2010. Three or four might sound like a lot from one state except that New York is the birthplace of 11 current senators. Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania each can claim four. The states with no natives to their name? Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico and Utah.

Did X-ray scandal sink Wolf’s chances?

Wolf,MiltonWhile observing that most campaign gaffes and errors don’t matter, Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics saw an exception in Kansas’ GOP primary for U.S. Senate, where tea partier Milton Wolf is challenging three-term Sen. Pat Roberts. The incumbent “played right into Wolf’s hands when he admitted that he didn’t have a home in Kansas. This set off alarm bells with observers because residency issues likely played a big role in Sen. Richard Lugar’s (R-IN) primary loss in 2012,” the website wrote. “But then Wolf’s problems overshadowed Roberts: The insurgent, a physician, had posted morbid photos of X-rays on Facebook and made snarky remarks about them. Ultimately, the latter matters more: Wolf’s only chance to win was to run a flawless race against Roberts, and the X-ray disaster zaps any problems Roberts might have.” Still, Wolf showed unexpected strength with his first-quarter fundraising: more than $318,000, all but $5,050 of it from individual donors. Roberts raised more than $534,000 during the same period, including nearly $260,000 from political action committees (he had $2 million on hand).

Huelskamp’s claim about uninsured Kansans is ‘phony’

huelskamp,timRep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, told a Salina audience this month that “there are more people uninsured today in Kansas than there were before the president’s health care plan went into effect.” But on Friday the Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog called that claim “bogus,” giving it the maximum four Pinocchios. After Huelskamp’s staff failed to provide backup data, the blog found that “there are no useful numbers on the number of uninsured since the enrollment period started in October of 2013.” The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported that 29,309 Kansans had signed up for health care on the federal exchanges as of March 1. Saying “few plans were canceled in Kansas despite initial reports that thousands of plans might be terminated,” the Fact Checker concluded that Huelskamp can be as critical “of the law as he wants, but he’s not entitled to conjure phony facts out of thin air.”

Compact wouldn’t ‘return’ Medicare control to Kansas

doctorswashinghands1Proponents of the multistate health care compact have touted how “it would allow the state of Kansas to once again be back in control,” as Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, put it. “This is a states’ rights issue of returning health care back to the states,” said Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Shawnee, as Gov. Sam Brownback signed the bill last week. That “back-in-control” talk is misleading at best. States have never had a role in providing services and benefits via Medicare, which is the federal health insurance program covering people 65 and older and certain people with disabilities and permanent kidney failure. The Kansas Insurance Commissioner’s Office has a regulatory role relating to Medicare supplemental plans and private companies that have contracted with the federal government to provide Medicare. But the control and authority rest with the federal government. So if the health care compact wins congressional approval, Kansas will be assuming responsibility for Kansans’ Medicare not “again” but for the first time.

More evidence of how far Sebelius’ star has fallen

CORRECTION State of StateThe gossip about a run for the U.S. Senate by exiting Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius prompted Rasmussen Reports to do a poll last week on her prospects. It found that 55 percent of likely voters in the state have an unfavorable view of their former two-term governor, and that she would lose to Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., by 17 percentage points. That’s quite a comedown for someone who has never lost an election and was once on the short list for vice president. Of those polled, 55 percent said they had a favorable view of Roberts, despite questions about his residency and the tea party challenge from Milton Wolf.

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.

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.

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.

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.”