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Morning Sun
  • INSIGHT KANSAS: Kansans as lab rats: “Our real, live experiment”

  • Last year, President Obama ventured out to deep red Kansas to re-energize his presidency around Teddy Roosevelt’s “new Nationalism” ideas.  While he was speaking, Kansas’s Republican Governor Sam Brownback was 150 miles away, in Wichita, fulfilling one of those “long-time commitments” that politicians conveniently honor when they want to avoid an unwanted meeting.

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  • Last year, President Obama ventured out to deep red Kansas to re-energize his presidency around Teddy Roosevelt’s “new Nationalism” ideas.  While he was speaking, Kansas’s Republican Governor Sam Brownback was 150 miles away, in Wichita, fulfilling one of those “long-time commitments” that politicians conveniently honor when they want to avoid an unwanted meeting.
    Brownback’s absence symbolized his frequent, if inconsistent, unwillingness to work with the federal government in general and the Obama administration in particular to implement policies that will benefit Kansans.  What Sam Brownback wants, as do many of his fellow GOP governors, is to demonstrate how a single state can create prosperity and socially conservative policies, without embracing Washington’s initiatives like Obamacare.
    From the framers on, we’ve relied heavily on federalism to address major societal needs, from education to law enforcement to financing our governments.  By and large, it’s been a good thing to give the states as much latitude as possible.  Still, Teddy Roosevelt’s observations of 100 years ago continue to ring true -- national problems deserve national attention.
    But what is a national problem?  Curing cancer?  Sure, let’s seek as many federal dollars as possible to KU Med’s national cancer center.  Protection against agro-terrorism?  Huge problem, so let’s have NBAF’s immense funding flow into the state.  Hey, this federal money can be a good thing, which of course we knew all along, given our long history with agricultural subsidies.
    Still, as Governor Brownback has dictated, not all federal money is “good” money. It was thus both shocking and depressing when the Kansas state government either returned or refused to compete for more than $60 million in federal health-care funds over the past year. Not only would we have been in the forefront of establishing a state-based health insurance exchange, but we also could have attacked the festering problems of obesity and diabetes.
    But no, Governor Brownback decided not to cooperate with the Obama administration, even if meant less funding for and increased pressure on our healthcare system.  This is exacerbated by the state’s likely rejection of enhanced Medicaid funding, which would provide health care for thousands of vulnerable Kansans. Oh, by the way, the governor does want federal waivers so that we can experiment with our Medicaid administration. Likewise with No Child Left Behind waivers.
    Indeed, one great virtue of federalism is to make use of the states as “laboratories of democracy,” where policies are developed, demonstrated, and then spread across the nation.  This is a powerful metaphor, and one exemplified in hundreds of beneficial innovations, from taxation to land use to education.
    For the “laboratory” analogy to work, however, it needs to be taken seriously – that is, the “real live experiment” (in Brownback’s words) should be conducted with seriousness and care.  This did not happen with the 2012 tax law changes, which were thrown together almost randomly as a vehicle for negotiation – not as well-considered legislation to spur economic growth.
    Page 2 of 2 - Most experiments fail, even when performed with care.  But the 2012 tax-cut experiment is virtually doomed to failure, given immense projected deficits, whatever its potential for job creation.  On the other hand, we do know that certain enterprises – partnerships, Chapter S corporations and the like – will benefit tremendously.  For them, the tax cuts are not experiments, but a sure thing for greatly reducing their liabilities.
    Governor Brownback wants lots of federal largesse – cancer and NBAF funding, as well as agricultural subsidies, but rejects – for political purposes – other funds that might improve the health of thousands of Kansans, to say nothing of embarking upon a questionable course of privatizing the Medicaid funds that we currently receive.
    In the end, Kansans have been cast in the role of lab rats for a host of experiments that offer few benefits to the state or its citizens.
    Burdett Loomis is a professor of political science at the University of Kansas.
     
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