As the sequester enters its second week, one right-wing politician has a surprising answer for how to break the stalemate in Washington: “We need Ted Kennedy,” says Republican Kansas Governor and former Senator Sam Brownback.
“It’s hard for a guy like me to say, but Ted would reach across the isle and say ‘for the good of the country’” we need to solve this problem, Brownback tells me in the accompanying video. “You need some people stepping up like that.”
Even more surprising than a diehard conservative like Brownback lamenting the absence of Ted Kennedy is the notion that there aren’t members of Congress today who are willing to do what’s ‘for the good of the country.'
Vice President Joe Biden is currently playing that role, Brownback notes, as is Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin. The Illinois senator can reach out to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and say: “‘Look, I’ve got a philosophy and you’ve got a philosophy but we really can work this through.’”
Beyond the political dysfunction, Gov. Brownback sees some benefits to the sequester. “I’m encouraged it’s finally started and without the market forcing it to happen,” he says of government spending cuts. “In other countries these generally don’t start until the market says ‘we’re not going to lend you any more money.’”
While encouraged by the self-imposed, across-the-board $85 billion in spending cuts, the Governor warns “we’re going to see plays like this for the next five years minimum at the federal level [given] the huge federal debt and deficit.”
Regarding the likely outcome of the current D.C. showdown, Brownback suggests a “grand bargain” is possible. But the size of the issues is contributing to the appearance of dysfunction, he says. “The problems are major ones and the solutions aren’t easy ones; that’s why it looks so disturbing from the outside. You can’t do these half measures.”
Consistent with his conservative philosophy, Brownback’s biggest hope is “we get something done on taxes that’s pro-growth,” suggesting a flat tax could be a solution at the federal level.
You can find more about Brownback’s views on taxes in part one of this interview. Meanwhile, he also made the following comments on other federal matters:
Immigration Reform: Brownback says there have been “preliminary discussions” but Governors “haven’t really been asked yet” to weigh in.
While acknowledging opposition from the left, he supports a “guest worker program” to expand the number of visas for individuals looking to come to the U.S. legally. “I hope some states are being given visas to recruit people,” he says. “We’re looking for talent –entrepreneurs.”
Finding a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million living illegally in America today is “the hardest piece of the puzzle” and “a long way from being solved,” he says. Whatever happens, “I hope it's a legitimate bipartisan discussion and not a tactical political maneuver by the president and others to drive a wedge between some minorities and the Republican party.”
Medicaid Expansion: The price of expanding Medicaid eligibility is “really high for us and I can’t believe the [federal] government can handle that price tag,” he says. “It looks to me like sometime in next 3-5 years the bill probably goes up for states because the [federal government] runs out of money.” (Off camera Brownback clarified that while he said ‘the Fed is running out of money’, he meant the ‘federal government’ vs. the Federal Reserve; while neither is likely, the latter is pretty far-fetched considering the central bank has a virtual printing press.)
While saying the state is still studying the matter, “right now I can’t see a path that’s long-term fiscally sustainable for us to manage,” Gov. Brownback says.