Wednesday Q+A With Sam Brownback

The Kansas governor on repealing Obamacare, cutting taxes, and balancing the budget.

Gov. Sam Brownback at the Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday
Chet Susslin
Feb. 28, 2017, 8 p.m.

Kan­sas Gov. Sam Brown­back is halfway through his second term as he battles with the GOP-con­trolled le­gis­lature over how to bal­ance the state’s fre­quently un­der­fun­ded budget. Mean­while, many of the con­ser­vat­ive policies he cham­pioned have a chance to ex­pand na­tion­wide with a Re­pub­lic­an Con­gress and pres­id­ent. The former Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or and pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate talked to Zach C. Co­hen at the Con­ser­vat­ive Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Con­fer­ence last week in Na­tion­al Har­bor, Mary­land, about nav­ig­at­ing Kan­sas’s budget talks and his ad­vice for his former col­leagues in Con­gress on health care policy.

In your State of the State ad­dress last month, you praised the state’s Medi­caid pro­gram, as Re­pub­lic­ans are con­sid­er­ing re­peal­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act. Have you talked to D.C. Re­pub­lic­ans about how they should go about re­peal­ing the na­tion­al health care law?

Some. … The most nettle­some piece for us right now is the dif­fer­ence between states that did Obama­care ex­pan­sion of Medi­caid and those that did not. … I think one of the ideas that ought to be looked at is to make it an in­di­vidu­al is­sue that fol­lows the per­son. …That way you’re not pun­ish­ing states that have done the ex­pan­sion, you’re not re­ward­ing states that did the ex­pan­sion. … Right now the Obama­care in­sur­ance—the ex­changes are not work­ing. They’re fail­ing. … You’ve got all sick people that are on the ex­change. There’s no way you can run an in­sur­ance pool that way. And that’s why I think you need to look at bring­ing back that high-risk pool, where it’s go­ing to be sub­sid­ized but then you’re not kick­ing people out.

And we need to get more people back in­to in­sur­ance. We get a lot of people who leave in­sur­ance to go in­to Medi­caid. We didn’t do the Obama­care ex­pan­sion; we’re still at a 25 per­cent in­crease in Medi­caid en­roll­ment in the state. And a lot of that was people leav­ing in­sur­ance to go on Medi­caid.

Your sig­na­ture policy at the start of your ten­ure was in­come-tax de­creases. Is that something that you’d like to see Con­gress and the pres­id­ent pur­sue?

Oh, ab­so­lutely. And par­tic­u­larly tar­get­ing small busi­ness. Those are your primary job cre­at­ors. And if they cut that Sub-S tax in half, you’re go­ing to see it skyrock­et. We took the tax off of small busi­ness—went to the Texas mod­el, where you’re not tax­ing in­come—and we’ve seen re­cord new busi­ness fil­ings every year for six years since. That’s where we’ve lagged as a coun­try; our small busi­ness form­a­tion has been down.

[Last week] the le­gis­lature nearly over­rode your veto pre­vent­ing tax in­creases. What are the next steps for bal­an­cing the budget?

I think it’s really to work with the le­gis­lat­ive lead­er­ship, fig­ur­ing out a path. We’ve put for­ward a path that re­lies on [re­du­cing spend­ing], and also on con­sump­tion taxes, par­tic­u­larly al­co­hol and ci­gar­ettes, and then re­fin­ing the small busi­ness ex­emp­tion that we’ve put for­ward so you’re tax­ing pass­ive in­come. … Those to­geth­er get us to bal­ance in fisc­al ’19.

I think just go­ing on an in­come-tax in­crease when no red state in Amer­ica is do­ing that—that really hurts your long-term growth per­spect­ive. It’s the wrong way to go.

The le­gis­lature con­sidered ex­pand­ing Medi­caid, which I know is something you’ve op­posed. Is there a dif­fer­ence between you and the le­gis­lature in terms of pri­or­it­ies?

I think you saw a lot of people that were lib­er­als run as Re­pub­lic­ans and get elec­ted this last cycle. … You saw them pass teach­er ten­ure, which is not broadly sup­por­ted in the pub­lic. You saw them vote against de­fund­ing Planned Par­ent­hood. … In Au­gust, when our primary took place, when con­ser­vat­ives were up­set at Don­ald Trump, they wanted some­body that they thought was a more proven con­ser­vat­ive. They didn’t get out and vote, and you’re see­ing that now in the num­ber of le­gis­lat­ive people that were elec­ted.

Demo­crats ended up pick­ing up seats as well. Were voters try­ing to send you a mes­sage?

Not many. They picked up one in the Sen­ate, and out of 40 mem­bers in the Sen­ate you went from eight to nine Demo­crats. And in the House … they picked up a dozen seats, but we were at a his­tor­ic high of num­ber of Re­pub­lic­ans pri­or to that. So the mar­gins are still very solidly Re­pub­lic­an. … So I don’t think there’s a mes­sage. … This is after we’ve done a huge of num­ber of changes in the state. You’ve got to get some ebb and flow that takes place.

Is there any­thing else from your six-year ten­ure you’d like to see im­ple­men­ted on a na­tion­al scale?

Wel­fare re­form. And then I really would love to see Roe over­turned and send the is­sue … back to the states. … You’ll get a patch­work that’s more re­flect­ive of the states than this fed­er­al stomp-on-top-of-the-top­ic, and you cre­ate sort of the ways to deal with the hot-but­ton so­cial is­sue.

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