Category Archives: President Obama

Pompeo and Tiahrt both pandering on impeachment

ObamaIn their testy Sunday debate on KNSS Radio 1330-AM, both Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and former Rep. Todd Tiahrt said they would vote to impeach President Obama (in photo). “If such a bill were introduced, I would,” Pompeo said, jumping into a criticism of the “absolute overreach” of the administration. Tiahrt said Obama “had broken the law” and he also proudly declared: “I’ve already voted to impeach Bill Clinton on all four counts.” Saying they’d vote to impeach Obama is like a future juror declaring someone guilty even before charges are filed, testimony is heard and jury deliberations are held. Shouldn’t they be above such right-wing pandering?

Kansas losing out by not expanding Medicaid

healthcaregovHow much is Kansas losing out by not allowing a federal expansion of Medicaid? About $820 million over the next three years, according to a study by the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Kansas is also losing out on 3,800 new jobs over the three-year span. And up to 100,000 low-income Kansans are losing out on needed health insurance. Expansion also would save the state money by moving some adults the state now cares for, such as those with mental illnesses, onto Medicaid and by reducing other costs. But neither the financial nor moral arguments for expansion seem to matter to Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature.

Still too many Kansans lacking health insurance

doctoroutAbout 359,000 Kansans – or 12.6 percent of the population – were uninsured in 2012, according to a new report by the Kansas Health Institute. The national average was 14.8 percent. In Sedgwick County, the uninsured rate was 15.5 percent. Two-thirds of uninsured Kansans have family incomes above the federal poverty level ($23,050 annually for a family of four in 2012), KHI reported, and more than three out of four uninsured Kansas adults are working. Though the current uninsured rate is not known, more than 57,000 Kansans signed up for health coverage through the insurance marketplace, according to federal data. That total doesn’t include Kansans 26 and younger who are now receiving health insurance through their parents’ plans, as part of the Affordable Care Act. More than 75,000 additional Kansans could be insured if Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature would allow a federal expansion of Medicaid.

Sebelius likely exaggerating ACA’s impact

sebeliustestifyFormer Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said recently that “there are now 22 million people with affordable coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act, and that’s a big deal and that number will grow.” The 22 million is the total of 8 million people in the insurance marketplace, 3 million young adults who now get insurance through their parents’ plan, 5 million people in ACA-compliant off-market plans, and 6 million additional people receiving coverage through Medicaid. But Washington Post fact-checkers questioned whether off-market plans should be counted and called the young adults total an “iffy statistic.” The newspaper gave Sebelius a “two Pinocchios” rating (out of four).

Pro-con: Was Hobby Lobby ruling correct?

supremecourtbldgSince March 2010, as the Obama administration turned the Affordable Care Act into federal regulations, few provisions grew as controversial as the mandate that most employers provide insurance coverage for contraceptives. The most disputed implication of that mandate, and the one at issue in a major Supreme Court ruling Monday, demanded coverage of contraceptives some employers view as tantamount to abortion because those methods can stop fertilized embryos from implanting in the womb. For many Americans, this so-called Hobby Lobby case (the plaintiffs include that retail chain) is about whether employees have a right under the health care overhaul to employer-provided contraception. Other Americans see the case as a test of whether the government can require companies to be indirectly complicit in abortions. For still others it’s about attacking or defending the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Five U.S. Supreme Court justices chose a different battleground. In the first sentence of a 49-page opinion, they framed the case as asking whether the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act lets the government demand that closely held corporations “provide health-insurance coverage for methods of contraception that violate the sincerely held religious beliefs of the companies’ owners.” In the very next sentence, the justices ruled that the RFRA’s protections of religious exercise outlaw the Obamacare regs that require such employers to provide the coverage. The ruling is narrowly tailored and, with its numerous qualifiers, doesn’t appear to create the slippery slope threats that the court’s dissenters imagine. Congress and the Obama administration can find ways to provide contraception without involving employers. For lack of that smarter move from the get-go, Obamacare has suffered another wound. We hope a pile of future memoirs explain why the White House didn’t find a less intrusive way of delivering the coverage. This decision angers many Americans. But it’s a logical extension of the Constitution’s intent to make ours a free and pluralistic society. – Chicago Tribune

In ruling 5 to 4 that “closely held” companies can refuse on religious grounds to include contraceptives in their employees’ health plans, the Supreme Court has needlessly interfered with an important provision of the Affordable Care Act. And it has done more than that. The specious reasoning in Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion could embolden employers to assert a “religious” right to deny other health benefits to their employees or to discriminate in other ways. And by stretching the meaning of a law intended to protect individuals, the decision threatens to fracture what has been a bipartisan support for reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs. A 1993 federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, allows a person to opt out of a generally applicable law under some circumstances if obeying it would “substantially burden” the exercise of his or her religion. Alito held, unpersuasively, that Hobby Lobby and the other companies qualified as “persons” and, even more absurdly, that making contraception available to employees who would make their own reproductive decisions was a “substantial burden” on the religious freedom of employers. Bad as it is, the decision could have been worse. The protection it offers is limited to “closely held” companies, sparing the courts from having to determine the religious beliefs of large companies with multiple shareholders and officers. Alito also insisted that the decision didn’t establish a general principle that a company could get around an insurance mandate by lodging a religious objection. But the logic of the decision would seem to cover a wide range of medical services that might offend Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists and adherents of other faiths. Beyond the harm it does to women’s access to birth control, this ruling undoes the political consensus that led to the enactment of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Battle lines will soon be forming around whether the law should be amended or even repealed. That’s a lot of damage from one misguided decision. – Los Angeles Times

Cheney suffering from amnesia on Iraq

iraqburningcar“For Dick Cheney, Iraq means never having to say you’re sorry,” columnist Trudy Rubin wrote. “His recent interviews damning President Obama for losing Iraq make him sound as if he’s suffering from amnesia. But memory loss has not blotted out his central role in creating the Iraq mess. He just refuses to admit he made any errors.”

Obama trails predecessors in executive orders

penmanshipPresident Obama was appropriately reined in by the U.S. Supreme Court for overreaching on some of his executive actions. But it is worth noting that despite all the GOP howling, Obama has actually issued fewer executive orders than nearly all 20th- and 21st-century presidents. So far, Obama has issued 182 executive orders, according to the American Presidency Project. That’s well below the pace of other two-term presidents, including George W. Bush (291), Bill Clinton (364), Ronald Reagan (381) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (484). And as Obama argued Monday, some of his executive actions have been prompted by the failure of Congress to pass – or even vote on – legislation. “Pass a bill. Solve a problem,” he advised lawmakers.

Little faith in Obama, political parties, Congress

thumbsdownOnly 41 percent of Americans have a positive opinion of President Obama, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey. Public opinion of the Democratic Party is slightly worse, 38 percent positive, while only 29 percent have a positive opinion of the Republican Party and 22 percent of the tea party. Meanwhile, a new Gallup poll found that only 7 percent of Americans have confidence in Congress, a record low.

Kansas earns ‘F’ on protecting new parents

newbornPresident Obama called this week for paid maternity leave, saying the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world. Meanwhile, a new study gave Kansas an “F” grade on its policies (or lack thereof) to protect new parents. Kansas is among 17 states that don’t expand upon federal rights or protections, limited as they are, for new and expecting parents, according to a study by the National Partnership for Women and Families. Internationally, America ranks dead last among 38 nations for its government support for working parents, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center report. Family values?

Public wants action on climate change

coalplant3More than 6 in 10 Americans think action is needed to combat climate change, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey. What’s more, 57 percent support requiring companies to reduce greenhouse gases, even if it would mean higher utility bills for consumers. Also, 67 percent support a recent Environmental Protection Agency proposal to set strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants, which was not affected by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday limiting some of EPA’s authority.

Obama’s actions don’t match rhetoric on foreign policy

obamaosawatomie“If Putin can flout global rules with impunity, China will take full notice, and Iran will also,” columnist Trudy Rubin wrote. “If Obama wants foreign leaders to take him seriously, he must clarify how he will handle those who ignore international rules and coalitions. The world is watching what he does, not what he says.”

Kansas’ reliance on coal power could cost it

coalplantholcombOf the 50 states, Kansas generates the 11th-highest percentage of its electricity from coal, or 63 percent as of March, according to the Washington Post. As a result, Kansas could be affected more than most states by proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules limiting carbon output from existing coal-fired power plants. West Virginia has the highest reliance on coal, at 95 percent; Idaho has the lowest reliance, at zero percent (78 percent of its electricity comes from hydroelectric power). Nineteen states get more than half their electricity from coal-fired plants. According to the EPA proposal, Kansas’ goal would be to cut emissions 23 percent by 2030.

VA scandal is a real outrage

veteransday“What makes the VA scandal different is not only that it affected people at their most desperate moment of need – and continues to affect them at subpar facilities,” columnist John Dickerson wrote. “It’s also a failure of one of the most basic transactions government is supposed to perform: keeping a promise to those who were asked to protect our very form of government.” Unlike the many manufactured scandals in Washington, D.C., this one really is an outrage that needs sustained attention and pressure.

Sebelius made a cameo at correspondents’ dinner

sebeliuswhiteOutgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made a cameo appearance in President Obama’s speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, approaching the lectern when the president, supposedly encountering a video glitch, asked, “Does anybody know how to fix this?” The president also quipped that the HealthCare.gov rollout had inspired one of the year’s biggest movies, “Frozen,” and said that “in 2008 my slogan was ‘yes, we can.’ In 2013 my slogan was ‘control, alt, delete.’” In a night of jokes, some better than others, somebody probably saw one in the seating arrangements, which put Sebelius at the same table as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who has vowed to repeal every word of the Affordable Care Act. Among the president’s other jokes: “MSNBC is here. They’re a little overwhelmed. They’ve never seen an audience this big before.” And “the Koch brothers bought a table here tonight, but as usual they used a shadowy right-wing organization as a front. Hello, Fox News!”

If tax revenues are off, it’s Obama’s fault?

Inaugural Swearing InIt has been almost comical to hear the shifting responses by Brownback administration officials to changes in state tax revenue collections. When the March tax collections came in higher than projected, Kansas Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan boasted about how “we’re seeing the Kansas economic engine running.” But when the April collections came in $93 million less than projections (which were made only two weeks ago), Jordan and Gov. Sam Brownback blamed President Obama and the national economy. Meanwhile, Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded Kansas’ state bonds, citing the state’s sluggish economy, budget problems and revenue reductions resulting from tax cuts. Is that Obama’s fault, too?

Is Sebelius hanging around to get federal pension?

sebeliuswhiteWhy is Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius staying on the job for weeks or even months until her replacement is confirmed? The conservative Daily Caller pointed to a possible financial motive: This week Sebelius “becomes eligible to receive a government pension and continue certain taxpayer-funded health care benefits when she hits her five-year employment mark with the federal government, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) policy indicates.” According to the Daily Caller’s math, “Sebelius, under the Federal Employee Retirement System, could receive an estimated $10,000 pension from the government each year.” That’s not much, but Kansas governors, insurance commissioners and state legislators are eligible for benefits from the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, and Sebelius has held all three of those jobs.

Stop delaying decision on Keystone pipeline

keystoneprotestThe U.S. State Department said it is delaying a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline because of a Nebraska court case about the pipeline route. But many others, including some Democratic lawmakers, see it as another stall tactic aimed at putting off the controversial decision until after the November elections. “I am frankly appalled at the continued foot-dragging by this administration on the Keystone project,” complained Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska. Many environmentalists oppose the pipeline, but 65 percent of Americans think it should be approved, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll.

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.”

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.

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

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.”

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.”

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.

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.”