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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