By Blocking Medicaid, Brownback Shows There is No Limit to His Trickle-Down Folly

(Thad Allton/Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, right, along with Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer participates in a humanitarian award ceremony Thursday, March 9, 2017, at the statehouse in Topeka, Kansas.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback can’t seem to take a hint. After six years of his using his state as a petri dish for trickle-down economic experiments—with deep tax cuts begetting even deeper budget cuts—he has sparked a political mutiny. 

In November, fed-up Kansans voted in a slew of moderate Republicans and Democrats to the legislature to serve as a check against the governor. The Dems and the mods have since formed a governing coalition that is rebelling against Brownback’s radical political agenda.

On Tuesday, state senators passed legislation approving an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program through the ACA that would cover 150,000 previously ineligible low-income Kansans. But, on Thursday, Brownback vetoed the expansion, claiming it would be fiscally irresponsible and lamenting that it would provide increased funds to Planned Parenthood.

That comes as no surprise since the governor has long been a leading Obamacare antagonist. Days before his veto, Brownback’s spokeswoman called Medicaid a “failing entitlement program.” “To expand Obamacare when the program is in a death spiral is not responsible policy,” she said. (Nonpartisan health insurance experts have made clear that it is not in a so-called death spiral.) Since neither chamber passed the expansion with a veto-proof majority, Brownback’s veto is likely to stand.

This is merely the latest in a string of Brownback debacles. As a result of the governor’s infamous 2012 income tax cuts (which primarily benefited the wealthy) Kansas has faced chronic budget shortfalls. Last year, the state’s estimated tax revenue came up $53 million short. All told, Kansas now faces a $350 million budget deficit that’s expected to balloon to more than $500 million in 2018.

Year after year, Brownback and the conservative legislature has addressed those shortfalls with deep cuts to social services. In 2012, he privatized the state’s Medicaid program. During his tenure, nearly 1,500 disabled Kansans have been thrown off Medicaid coverage. Rural hospitals have languished. Last year, he implemented a draconian $38 million cut to KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program. 

Meanwhile, earlier this year, the Kansas Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Brownback’s defunding of public schools so severely hurt black, Latino, and poor students that it was unconstitutional.

Vetoing the Medicaid expansion isn't the first time Brownback flouts the newly adversarial legislature. Earlier this year the legislature passed a dramatic bipartisan tax reform bill that, by rolling back Brownback’s trickle-down tax cuts, would have slowed the bleeding. Unwilling to sign away the cornerstone of his gubernatorial legacy, Brownback vetoed the legislation. Instead, his plan to increase revenue calls for doubling the alcohol tax and increasing the tobacco tax—both regressive sales taxes that fall most heavily on the poor.

Brownback’s tax cut experiment has turned the state into a real-life public service announcement for why supply-side economics doesn’t work. Tax cuts for business owners have not created jobs; in fact, more people are fleeing the state than nearly any other state—and the jobs are going with them. Instead, the tax cuts have only served to create budgetary crisis.

Kansans have noticed. A 2016 poll showed, Brownback to be the least popular governor in the country, sporting a dismal 23 percent approval rating. Yet Brownback has continually counseled the Trump administration to take his trickle-down travesty nationwide—and all indications so far seem to say the president wants to do so.

On top of all this—while Kansas faces a budgetary disaster—Brownback may not even see his state through to the end of his term in 2018. He is reportedly being courted for a position in the Trump administration as a United Nations ambassador on food and agriculture, based in Italy. He may soon scuttle away while he still can.

Brownback is not only steadfastly opposed to expanding healthcare coverage for poor Kansans, and to compromising on his tax cuts in order to save failing state services—he’s on track for the biggest gubernatorial cut-and-run (to Rome) in history. For all of which, Sam Brownback is our Trickle Downer of the Week. 

This article has been updated. 

Tax Cuts for the rich. Deregulation for the powerful. Wage suppression for everyone else. These are the tenets of trickle-down economics, the conservatives’ age-old strategy for advantaging the interests of the rich and powerful over those of the middle class and poor. The articles in Trickle-Downers are devoted, first, to exposing and refuting these lies, but equally, to reminding Americans that these claims aren’t made because they are true. Rather, they are made because they are the most effective way elites have found to bully, confuse and intimidate middle- and working-class voters. Trickle-down claims are not real economics. They are negotiating strategies. Here at the Prospect, we hope to help you win that negotiation.

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