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“A Truly Extraordinary Record Of Being Wrong”: In-Demand GOP Economist Says Kansas ‘Is Doing Fine’

The first big hint that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) was pursuing a dangerous economic course was when he hired economist Arthur Laffer to help shape the plan. Laffer, of course, rose to GOP prominence in the 1980s pushing the celebrated-but-wrong idea that tax cuts can pay for themselves.

The Washington Post profiles the conservative economist today and notes that his influence has not waned, despite the real-world effects of his policies. In fact, Laffer is evidently a go-to source for many of this year’s Republican presidential candidates.

No one has influenced Republican candidates’ thinking on the economy for the past four decades as much as Laffer, who is now 75. Laffer says he believes that limiting government and cutting tax rates, especially the rate levied on top earners, will unleash faster economic growth. Since he sold then-candidate Ronald Reagan on that prescription, every Republican presidential nominee has run on a Laffer-inspired economic platform.

As the 2016 GOP primary season takes off, Laffer is more in demand than ever before, with Republican candidates embracing tax-cut-for-the-rich policies even as they bemoan economic inequality. Candidates have been meeting with him in recent weeks, and on Friday in Nashville, he says, his schedule includes Rick Perry at 10 a.m., Ben Carson at noon, Jeb Bush at 1:15 p.m. and Bobby Jindal at 5. Dinner is scheduled with Ted Cruz. He has already met at least once with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

And this does not include the meeting Laffer has already had with Rand Paul, who asked him to look over a tax-cut plan the Kentucky Republican likes.

The conversation turned to Brownback’s radical experiment, and the Post’s article added this gem: “ ‘Kansas,’ Laffer declared over a five-hour lunch interview in Washington, ‘is doing fine.’”

“Fine,” I suppose, is a relative term. For those of us who care about the details, the economic plan Laffer created for Kansas has resulted in debt downgrades, weak growth, and state finances in shambles. It’s reached the point in which two Kansas public school districts are wrapping up the school year early because they don’t have the money needed to finish a full school year.

“Fine” probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind.

Paul Krugman added some helpful context to Laffer’s record.

Since the 1970s there have been four big changes in the effective tax rate on the top 1 percent: the Reagan cut, the Clinton hike, the Bush cut, and the Obama hike. Republicans are fixated on the boom that followed the 1981 tax cut (which had much more to do with monetary policy, but never mind). But they predicted dire effects from the Clinton hike; instead we had a boom that eclipsed Reagan’s. They predicted wonderful things from the Bush tax cuts; instead we got an unimpressive expansion followed by a devastating crash. And they predicted terrible things from the tax rise after Obama’s reelection; instead we got the best job growth since 1999.

And when I say “they predicted”, I especially mean Laffer himself, who has a truly extraordinary record of being wrong at crucial turning points. As Bruce Bartlett pointed out a few years ago, Laffer was even wrong during the Reagan years: he predicted that the Reagan tax hikes of 1982, which partially reversed earlier cuts, would cripple the economy; “morning in America” promptly followed. Oh, and let’s not forget his 2009 warnings about soaring interest rates and inflation.

Looking ahead, Krugman added the broader question is “why this always-wrong economic doctrine now has a stronger grip on the GOP than ever before.” That need not be a rhetorical question. Indeed, it should matter quite a bit to the voting public given that so many Republican presidential hopefuls – including the entire current top tier – are eager to bring their economic plans in line with Laffer’s discredited thinking.

Or put another way, a wide variety of national GOP candidates are looking at recent developments in Kansas and thinking, “How can I impose this model on the entire United States?”

It’s a bit like turning to discredited neoconservatives for guidance on foreign policy and national security. Oh wait….

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 10, 2015

April 12, 2015 Posted by | Arthur Laffer, Kansas, Sam Brownback | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Undoing The Extremism”: Will The GOP Get The Message In Kansas?

For many political observers, the question about Kansas these days is no longer, “What’s the matter?” so much as, “What the fuck?”

There was the unexpectedly close GOP Senate primary—three-term incumbent Pat Roberts wound up winning by 7 points—and the forced retirement of the Democratic Senate candidate; there’s the fact that Gov. Sam Brownback, whose average margin of victory in state-wide races is 23 points, is now fighting for his political life. Tom Frank made the state famous for illustrating how its citizens elected conservative candidates whose actual policies went against the voters’ economic self-interest; after one term of Brownback’s “Tea Party experiment,” Kansas voters seem to have enlightened their self-interest and want to undo the extremism that Brownback both promised and delivered. The question remains as to whether their Republican candidates will ever wise up to the same conclusion.

There’s no doubt that Brownback’s radically conservative economic policies failed. Schools closed, the deficit ballooned, highways crumbled, jobs disappeared—I imagine ruby slippers were hocked. That failure has the reddest state in the nation blushing blue.

Citing the state’s fiscal woes, moderate and not-so-moderate Republicans have flocked to Brownback’s opponent, Paul Davis, who trails by just 0.6 points. On the Senate front, independent candidate Greg Orman, who may be forced to caucus with the Democrats by default (RNC chair Reince Preibus has said his caucusing with the GOP would be “impossible”), is reaping the benefits of that Tea Party-weighted primary. “Traditional Republicans for Common Sense,” made up of 70 Republican moderates who served in the Kansas legislature, endorsed Orman and he is favored by independent voters by a margin of 30 points.

In the face of this, both Brownback and Roberts have chosen not to battle for the wide swath of Kansas voters who identify as moderate Republicans (47 percent, versus 38 percent “conservative Republicans”), but to move further to the right. In a just world, Roberts’ violation of Godin’s Law (warning that “our country is heading toward national socialism”) would mean that we could simply ignore him from here on out. But his lumbering lurch toward the Ted Cruz tin-foil-hat convention should instead be an object lesson for Republicans to come. (Brownback can’t really be said to have shifted right but rather has celebrated already being there.)

It’s true both races have tightened, with Roberts eking out a lead: 5 points in an average of the latest polls. Their still-slim chances of victory, however, hardly validate the GOP’s decision to double-down on the hard-right voters who have yet to make the connection between the false populism of tax cuts and their own dire straits. For those seeking to figure out a long-term strategy for Republican victories in Kansas, shouldn’t who supports him matter less than the masses of voters who have left both him and Brownback?

Think about it: If a ruinous adventure into Laffer-land has already alienated many Republican voters, won’t a further march into the barren fields of zero-tax-revenue put off even more? Combine this possibility with the inevitable demographic erosion of the GOP’s base and one has to wonder not just if the Republican leadership is shooting itself in the foot, but why it is. Is it misplaced, or at least short-sighted, cynicism, which might have them believe that their old white guy coalition (if you can call it that) will sustain them a few more cycles? (At least long enough to pass voting restrictions?) Or is it a form of psychosomatic blindness, a function of such deeply held, incorrect perceptions, that the party leaders literally cannot imagine the need to change their tactics, much less their policies?

The motivations matter mostly because understanding them can help progressives sharpen their arguments, or maybe let us know if the argument is even worth having. In other words, are we dealing with cynics or zealots?

Obviously, one hopes for the former. Cynics respond to defeat, for one thing. Cynics and opportunists look at polls. Cynics are the lifeblood of representative democracy. Cynics will do anything to save their own skin, even change their minds.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, October 24, 2014

October 27, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Kansas, Sam Brownback | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trouble Behind The Lines”: Sam Brownback, A Mad Scientist Whose Lab Has Blown Up

The strangest thing about the battle for the Senate going on this year is how much trouble Republicans are having in states won by Mitt Romney, and not necessarily the ones where they expected trouble. Contests in South Dakota, Kentucky and Georgia have all spent some time panicking Republicans, and none of those states has been put away by the GOP in the interim. But the biggest surprise still has to be Kansas, a profoundly Republican state with multiple struggling statewide Republican campaigns. Playing off Mark Benelli’s fine profile of events in Kansas for Rolling Stone, I discussed the plight of the GOP there at Washington Monthly today:

[Benelli’s] precis of how Sam Brownback made the state an experiment for the discredited fiscal theories of doddering supply-siders is an instant classic:

Back in 2011, Arthur Laffer, the Reagan-era godfather of supply-side economics, brought to Wichita by Brownback as a paid consultant, sounded like an exiled Marxist theoretician who’d lived to see a junta leader finally turn his words into deeds. “Brownback and his whole group there, it’s an amazing thing they’re doing,” Laffer gushed to The Washington Post that December. “It’s a revolution in a cornfield.” Veteran Kansas political reporter John Gramlich, a more impartial observer, described Brownback as being in pursuit of “what may be the boldest agenda of any governor in the nation,” not only cutting taxes but also slashing spending on education, social services and the arts, and, later, privatizing the entire state Medicaid system. Brownback himself went around the country telling anyone who’d listen that Kansas could be seen as a sort of test case, in which unfettered libertarian economic policy could be held up and compared right alongside the socialistic overreach of the Obama administration, and may the best theory of government win. “We’ll see how it works,” he bragged on Morning Joe in 2012. “We’ll have a real live experiment.”That word, “experiment,” has come to haunt Brownback as the data rolls in. The governor promised his “pro-growth tax policy” would act “like a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy,” but, instead, state revenues plummeted by nearly $700 million in a single fiscal year, both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s downgraded the state’s credit rating, and job growth sagged behind all four of Kansas’ neighbors. Brownback wound up nixing a planned sales-tax cut to make up for some of the shortfall, but not before he’d enacted what his opponents call the largest cuts in education spending in the history of Kansas.

Brownback added political to fiscal risk by securing big bags of money from friends like the Koch Brothers and using it in a 2012 primary purge of moderate Republican state senators who didn’t support his fiscal plans. And it’s all blown up on him this year, with the shock waves potentially engulfing the state’s senior U.S. Senator. Binelli’s portrait of Pat Roberts as an “unloved Beltway mediocrity” who stands by trembling with fatigue as more famous and charismatic conservatives campaign to save his bacon is as acute as his portrayal of Brownback as a mad scientist whose lab has blown up.

Because of the nature of the state and the year and the outside (and inside, from the Kochs Wichita HQ) money flooding Kansas, Brownback and Roberts may survive–Brownback to preside over the damage he’s done to the state’s fiscal standing and schools, and Roberts to return to a final stage of his long nap in the Capitol. But both men have richly earned the trouble they are in.

At a minimum, Browback’s presidential ambitions are now officially laughable, and moderate Republicans have gotten his full attention. But it would be nice to see an object lesson taught in the limits of Republican extremism.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly; The Democratic Strategist, October 24, 2015

October 26, 2014 Posted by | Austerity, Kansas, Sam Brownback | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Kids As Crash Test Dummies”: Brownback Outsources Child Support Services To Donor

When he was elected in 2010, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback began to slash core government services and privatize the rest. His austerity politics resulted in the state being downgraded by S&P in August 2014, and his privatization initiatives have also drawn criticism, causing one leading Republican to state, “I had hoped that it wouldn’t be as extreme as it’s been … what we didn’t know was that Sam would use this state as crash test dummies for his own fiscal experiments.”

Kids receiving child support payments from absent parents would be among Brownback’s first “crash test dummies.”

While Kansas partially outsourced the enforcement of child support to private corporations and law firms in 1997, the private players were only awarded around 20 percent of the contracts; the rest went to public state agencies. In March 2013, however, the Kansas Department of Children and Families (DCF) announced that all child support services would be outsourced, and a request for proposal was issued. Not limited to enforcement, the contracts would include services connected to court petitioning, locating parents, and establishing paternity, which had never been in private hands before.

“Collection is a function that can be carried out more efficiently and more cost-effectively by private companies,” DCF secretary Phyllis Gilmore said at a press conference. Similar blanket statements, seldom backed by empirical evidence, are often echoed by privatization proponents, regardless of which public services they want to outsource. In this particular case, there is little evidence to support Gilmore’s sound bite. A 2013 report on the privatization of child support services commissioned by the Mississippi Legislature, for example, concluded that “the significant additional cost of privatization would outweigh the potential additional benefits.”

Child support is indispensible for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Kansans, mostly single women and children. Nationally child support “represents 40 percent of family income for poor families who receive it, and reduces the poverty rate for children in these families by nearly 25 percent,” say experts.

The outsourcing of social services involving vulnerable populations is backed by influencial groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has developed a raft of model bills to privatize state services and has had model bills to privatize child support services and foster care services since the late 1990s.

According to research group In the Public Interest, a comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting, “many children and adults rely on government-provided health and human services. The ability of these programs to deliver services efficiently and appropriately can be a matter of life and death. Numerous state and local governmental entities are finding that turning over these programs to private contractors not only fails to achieve projected cost savings but also decreases access to these important services, hurting many vulnerable families. In many cases, the service quality declines dramatically and many sick or at-risk people are left with substandard care.”

In June 2013, DCF announced that four firms had been awarded contracts. The winner among the winners was YoungWilliams – a nationwide company based in Mississippi – that received two-thirds of the caseloads or 85,000 child support cases, worth some $50 million. While YoungWilliams boasted that it landed the contract because of its “innovative service delivery structure,” there might be more to it than that.

Rob Wells, CEO of YoungWilliams, met Brownback at a fundraiser for the gubernatorial hopeful in 2010. He and his wife went on to donate $2,000 each to Brownback’s campaign – the largest contribution allowed under state financing laws. But this pales in comparison to the $67,500 retainer he paid for GOP lobbyist Austin Barbour’s services. Through his lobbyist network, Barbour arranged for a private meeting with Brownback’s chief-of-staff David Kensinger (currently under FBI investigation for illegal lobbying) and some of the governor’s closest aides. The parties met to discuss child service privatization in the conference room of what used to be the State Treasurer’s Vault of the Kansas Statehouse, far from the public spotlight.

A few weeks later, the Brownback administration appointed Trisha Thomas from YoungWilliams as director of child support enforcement after firing her predecessor. It didn’t take long for the new director to conclude that “privatization was the quickest way to improve Kansas’ child support enforcement performance numbers.”

Asked whether there was any research in support of Thomas’ project of wholesale privatization, a DCF spokesperson said, “No … It was an informal kind of pitch, I guess; research done, based on her … experience in other markets.”

It is too early yet to say what YoungWilliams will do with Kansas child support enforcement, but if history is any guide, outsourcing vital public services for vulnerable populations to companies that must turn a profit frequently leads to higher costs and worse services. Between 1995 and 2000, privatization behemoth Maximus was in charge of child support enforcement in two Tennessee counties. A report concluded that the company “spent more but collected less money for overdue child support payments in [these] counties, on average, than DHS did in the rest of the state.” Sen. Hob Bryan (D-MS) characterized a similar situation simply as “a disaster” for Mississippi families and their kids.

But it is not clear if fact matters to administration officials pursuing the privatization agenda. Shar Habibi from In the Public Interest notes: “The evidence suggests that expanding the outsourcing of a public service that many Kansas children dearly rely on, was influenced by campaign donations and expensive corporate lobbyists, instead of an objective analysis of what was in the public’s best interest.”

 

By: Mary Bottari, The Center for Media and Democracy/ALEC Exposed; Coauthored by Jonas Persson; The Huffington Post Blog, October 19, 2014

October 20, 2014 Posted by | Kansas, Sam Brownback | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Man Is Truly From The Dark Side”: Kansas Must Send Kris Kobach To Political Oblivion

If Sam Brownback wins re-election as Kansas governor, the world will not end.

If Pat Roberts wins re-election to the U.S. Senate, for sure the world will not end.

If independent candidate Greg Orman upsets Roberts for the U.S. Senate, again the world will not end.

If Kris Kobach wins re-election as Kansas secretary of state…well, that’s another story.

Kobach would fill the secretary of state’s seat for four more years, where he will continue to ignore his duties and spend his time in courts fighting one thing after another. But that’s only the beginning of the havoc he would to wreak.

Kobach, who is only 48, would then find himself in the catbird’s seat to run for governor in four years or to seek in six years the U.S. Senate seat that either Roberts or Orman would hold.

Kobach has to be nailed by the electorate in such a way that he goes away. Long, long away into political oblivion.

Of all the politicians I have covered in more than four decades, starting with a campaign trip with Richard Nixon in 1968, I have never run across a meaner, nastier, more egomaniacal politician than Kris Kobach.

Kobach is also the most brilliant and clever politician I have ever covered. The man is dripping with Ivy League degrees.

The combination of his traits is lethal, which makes him so dangerous.

I have known Kobach since he was first elected to the Overland Park City Council in 1999, when on his questionnaire he stated he was in favor of abortions. Four years later, when he ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Congress, he switched to a pro-life position.

Kobach knows how to play the public like a fiddle, although there is hope that Kansans have finally figured out that they have been played for saps.

He stokes anti-immigration fears by championing the most vicious laws and then travels from state to state, spewing his hate through the laws he writes — for huge fees. It is one thing to fret over undocumented immigrants, but Kobach seeks with his obsessive plots to make their lives as miserable as possible, while he personally gains.

But because he presents himself as waging a heroic battle, too many Kansans have, at least until now, met his grandstanding with oohs and aahs.

The handsome, charismatic candidate in 2010, running for secretary of state, told Kansans he was going to stamp out voter fraud. More oohs and aahs. Who wouldn’t be for that?

But there had been, on average, only a dozen cases of voter fraud each year between 1997 and 2010, despite Kobach’s best efforts to dredge up more. He was scamming the electorate, plain and simple.

That did not stop Kobach from ramrodding through legislation that has disqualified almost 20,000 would-be voters because the state now requires them to come up with identification papers such as passports or birth certificates. The secretary of state, who is supposed to encourage voter turnout has, instead, crushed it. Between 2008 and 2012, voter turnout in Kansas declined more than other comparable states. A federal report finds this was likely due to Kobach’s voter registration laws.

Because of a quirk in the court rulings on Kobach’s scheme, it has left Kansas with a two-tiered voting system. New voters who have not presented their passports or birth certificates can only vote for federal candidates but cannot vote for state officials

Kobach’s swan song, I hope, was his creepy efforts to keep Democrat Chad Taylor on the ballot for U.S. senator, thereby splitting the vote with independent Orman, which, in turn, undoubtedly would have elected Roberts through the back door. Fortunately, the Kansas Supreme Court stomped on his shenanigans in a unanimous vote. Both Republicans and Democrats on the bench rejected Kobach’s attempt to mastermind the outcome of the vote.

After the courts ruled against him, Kobach attempted to intervene in a subsequent lawsuit that would have forced Democrats to put someone else on the ballot. The courts said Kobach could not intervene, and then ruled against the Kobach position.

Kansans, this man is truly from the dark side.

Kris Kobach must be stopped now, before we find him in an even more powerful position to ply his diabolical schemes.

 

By: Steve Rose, Columnist, The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, October 14, 2014

October 15, 2014 Posted by | Kansas, Kris Kobach | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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