Government & Politics

Kathleen Sebelius criticizes Gov. Sam Brownback’s vision for Kansas

Kathleen Sebelius
Kathleen Sebelius The Associated Press

Former Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday called Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cut plan a “failed and flawed vision.”

In her first interview with a Kansas reporter since she resigned as President Barack Obama’s health and human services secretary last April, Sebelius lamented the state’s credit downgrades, cuts to public schools and faltering job growth.

“I really worry about what the result of this great experiment will be and how long it will take the state to recover from what seems to be a failed and flawed vision of cutting taxes and job growth,” the Democrat said.

Sebelius also said the Republican governor’s proposed tax increases on tobacco and alcohol won’t generate enough revenue to make up for his tax cuts.

“I’m not sure there’s enough smokers and drinkers in Kansas to balance these enormous financial cuts,” Sebelius said.

The interview will be broadcast on KCUR’s “Up to Date” at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Sebelius, who has said little publicly about Brownback’s policies, was skeptical about the benefits of the Republican’s plan to eliminate the state income tax. She said Kansas was built on a foundation of a three-part revenue stream of income, sales and property taxes.

“When you take one of those three legs of the stool out and eliminate that, then I think you really run the risk of toppling everything,” she said.

The property tax is unpopular, and sales taxes are regressive, Sebelius added.

Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said Obamacare penalized businesses for offering full-time work, which she called a flawed vision for job growth. The governor’s policies have resulted in a record number of working Kansans, Hawley said.

The former HHS secretary, who left the Obama administration after a failed rollout of the Affordable Care Act enrollment website, also had tough words for Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas. The Republican called for Sebelius to resign for “gross incompetence.”

“I found it to be a disturbing call,” she said, “primarily because I didn’t feel that was a realistic way even to deal with the situation I was in.”

Roberts’ demand came the same week that tea partier Miltion Wolf launched a primary campaign against the senator.

Sebelius called Roberts’ statement “disturbing” and cited Roberts’ opposition in 2012 to a disabilities treaty that former U.S. senator Bob Dole championed. Dole, she said, was Roberts’ mentor.

“If Pat Roberts could do that to Bob Dole, I’m sort of a sideline,” she said. “It gave me some indication that he would basically do anything to try to be re-elected.”

A Roberts spokeswoman said the senator’s decision to call for the resignation was “based on poor job performance.”

Sebelius also said:

▪ The Affordable Care Act was a “major watershed” for the country and the political capital Obama expended to pass the law was worth it.

▪ She’d like to write a book about her “amazing experiences” and to set the record straight. “It’s interesting for me to read some of the books which have come out recently on the health care debate because the people writing them weren’t actually in the room. And a lot of what is said is not terribly accurate.”

▪ Her political career is over. “I have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) about going into a call room” to solicit campaign donations, she said.

▪ In hindsight, she would have integrated the technical experts with the policy people earlier in the development of the ACA website.

▪ The toughest part of the rollout experience was her inability to resolve the problem herself. “I couldn’t fix it,” she said. “I don’t have the technical knowledge and the background to just go in and say to people, ‘If you just move aside, I’ll come in and do this.’ I really had to rely on other people. … There’s no question that it was a miserable time.”

These days, she is speaking to groups and university classrooms and is working at the Aspen Institute on a global health care initiative. She has also found time to play with her 2-year-old grandson, George.

To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to