Health care debate explodes myth of Kim Reynolds the researcher

This year’s Congressional health care debate exposed a lot of hypocrisy and dishonesty among Republicans who never had a solid plan for how to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Politicians may yet revive something resembling the health care legislation that is dead for now.

The image of Governor Kim Reynolds as some kind of policy wonk should be destroyed beyond repair.


Republican allies of Reynolds started working the refs last year with tales of the lieutenant governor’s penchant for intense research. Their spin-doctoring paid off in two flattering features by the Des Moines Register’s chief political reporter Jason Noble. The first appeared in early December, just days after Governor Terry Branstad confirmed plans to leave for China. Excerpts:

As for her style of governing, several described her as happy to dig into the weeds and perform her own research en route to making a decision.

“You will see a very hands-on governor who will be actively engaged with her staff in the policy development process,” [former Branstad Chief of Staff Jeff] Boeyink said, drawing a contrast with Branstad, who tends to delegate the details and focus on the big picture.

“She is someone who never wants to be in a situation where she’s caught uninformed or unaware,” Boeyink said. “She goes overboard, in terms of doing the additional study on her own and making sure that she fully grasps the nuances of policy and the positions that the administration will take.”

Renee Schulte, a Republican former state legislator and now a political consultant who has represented clients in the governor’s office, said she, too, has noted Reynolds’ diligence — an attribute augmented by what Schulte views as her approachable manner and willingness to listen.

“She takes perspectives from others, and she studies really hard,” Schulte said. “I’ve seen her really dig into issues and learn about them.”

In January, Noble described the lieutenant governor as “a daughter of southern Iowa with a small-town compulsion to get involved and a perfectionist’s attention to detail.” That article contained more Republican testimonials to Reynolds as a serious voice on public policy:

“What I witnessed was an incredible partnership between her and the governor,” said Robert Haus, a Republican political operative who served as Reynolds’ chief adviser in 2015 and 2016. “She was included in every major policy decision, all the backroom, ongoing discussions and the setting of policy. She understood that it was always the governor at the head of the table. But she was always at the table.”

Bruce Rastetter, a leading Republican campaign donor and Branstad administration appointee to the Board of Regents, said he’s watched Reynolds’ leadership skills grow over the six years she’s held the office.

“Her self-confidence has grown over the past six years and is now really evident,” Rastetter said. “I’ve seen it in our interactions. She’s much more confident in her views and perspectives on things.”

A few days after the governor’s powers devolved upon Reynolds in May, Thomas Beaumont echoed the administration’s preferred narrative in this profile for the Associated Press:

With guidance from the nation’s longest-serving governor, she has established a political base and feverishly studied policy in preparation for the role she would have never seen coming, but now embraces. […]

Fueled by what advisers call an anxiousness to prove her intellectual chops, Reynolds brings the same intensity to policy research.

As lieutenant governor, she has demanded extensive briefing material, complaining at times of being ill-prepped for public events.

“Kim’s a studier and a worrier,” said Doug Gross, a former adviser to Branstad and past GOP nominee for governor.

Beaumont had fewer excuses for uncritically transmitting GOP spin than Noble did months before. Anyone paying attention to Iowa politics in early May could not have missed the petulant Reynolds reaction to Attorney General Tom Miller’s formal opinion about her powers.

Reynolds didn’t make even a token effort to read and engage with Miller’s legal arguments or historical research. Records later showed she misled the public during a coordinated GOP attack on the attorney general’s motives. Speaking to top Iowa reporters, Reynolds accused Miller of “political games” and claimed his reversal of views had undermined her plan for the transition. The truth was, she and her advisers had known about the attorney general’s conclusion weeks ahead of time.

Cramming briefing books so you can regurgitate talking points convincingly in a public setting is very different from researching complex issues. The health care debate exposed Reynolds as unwilling or unable to educate herself on how bills pending in Congress would affect Iowans.


As the U.S. Senate considered options for replacing the Affordable Care Act, three Republican governors signed a bipartisan letter warning that the House-approved bill “calls into question coverage for the vulnerable and fails to provide the necessary resources to ensure that no one is left out, while shifting significant costs to the states. Medicaid provisions included in this bill are particularly problematic.”

The Medicaid cuts would have devastated Iowa’s hospitals and nursing homes while forcing more than 100,000 people off that program in the next two years. Iowans who purchase private insurance faced the threat of being priced out of the market, especially if they had a chronic health problem. The Congressional Budget Office determined premiums would rise sharply for people over age 50 and those with pre-existing conditions.

Did Reynolds go “overboard, in terms of doing the additional study on her own and making sure that she fully grasps the nuances of policy”?

Did she “feverishly” study the CBO report to understand how the Senate GOP’s bill would affect her constituents?

Did she read up on how the proposal would shift costs to the states?

Did she research the conclusions of the AARP or the insurance trade groups, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans?

Was she aware that dozens of cancer advocacy groups had declared the bill “a direct threat” to cancer patients?

Apparently not. Reynolds hid behind generic rhetoric at her July 18 press conference, days before planned Senate votes on a bill that would affect one-sixth of the U.S. economy. Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register,

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday she wants to prevent Iowans from suddenly losing their health care coverage, but she doesn’t plan to wade into the controversy over Republican Congressional leaders’ efforts to repeal Obamacare.

“I’m focused on the things I can control,” Reynolds told reporters at her weekly news conference. […]

“I’m still optimistic that at some point they will be able to get something done, because they have to,” she said. “Obamacare is unsustainable, unworkable, unaffordable. It’s collapsing. Iowa is an example of that.” […]

Reynolds said she met last week with President Trump’s top two health-care administrators to urge them to approve the “stop-gap” plan, which was proposed last month by Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen. Without the plan, Ommen has warned, 72,000 Iowans who buy their own insurance could have just one carrier to choose from. That carrier, Medica, still could pull out of the Iowa market for 2018.

“I have to stay focused on something that’s going to impact 72,000 Iowans come Jan. 1, 2018,” the governor said.

How about the bill that would affect hundreds of thousands more Iowans, governor? From the same press conference, starting around the 29:45 mark:

I have never said that this [stopgap proposal] is a long-term solution. It’s not. It’s a short-term solution. And in the meantime, they need to get something done in Washington, DC. I’m frustrated, as well as I think other governors are across this state [sic]. I’m ok with flexibility, but they can’t, you know, shift all of the costs to the states. They have to be responsible in that state and federal partnership.

So I’m open to looking at some opportunity. They would have to, you know, relieve some of the mandates and provide some flexibility and make sure that the funding is adequate over a certain amount of time that would give us an opportunity to help those Iowans that currently need that, until I can get them a skill, or help get them with a support system in place, off of Medicaid and into a career that will sustain them going forward. So it’s all of that […]

What I’m saying, what I’m saying is I am focused right now on the stopgap proposal. This changes every day. You all are constantly asking me to weigh in on whatever the proposal of the day is. And it fluctuates even within a day.

A “studier and a worrier” would be studying this major legislation and worrying about its impact, not complaining about reporters doing their jobs.

Republican governors like John Kasich of Ohio, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts didn’t find it too taxing to keep up with Senate happenings that could hurt hundreds of thousands of their constituents.

Minimal research would have informed Reynolds that the Senate GOP bill massively shifted costs to the states. None of the minor revisions floated in mid-July would have provided anything close to adequate funding for Medicaid. The coverage losses would hit many people with zero prospect of “moving off of Medicaid and into a career”: elderly people in nursing homes, children in low-income households, and “individuals with disabilities who need long-term services and support.”


The Graham-Cassidy bill emerged this month as Republicans’ last chance to act on health care without any Democratic votes. The proposal had the same “age tax” the AARP opposed in earlier versions. It called for huge Medicaid cuts, growing larger after 2026. It was worse than earlier GOP proposals for people with pre-existing conditions. In the view of the insurance industry and independent analysts, Graham-Cassidy would destabilize the individual health insurance market.

Every major medical advocacy group opposed the bill. The American Medical Association warned it “would result in millions of Americans losing their health insurance coverage” and “decrease access to affordable coverage and care.” According to the health care policy firm Avalere, Cassidy-Graham would decrease funding to 34 states by 2026, including Iowa. The Iowa Hospital Association tweeted, “There is simply no good news about this latest repeal and replace bill.”

Eight Republican governors came out against the legislation.

Nevertheless, Reynolds endorsed Graham-Cassidy in exclusive comments to the right-wing Breitbart website. (At a press conference or in-state interview, Iowa journalists would have been able to ask follow-up questions immediately.) The quotes didn’t reveal any familiarity with specific Graham-Cassidy provisions–nor could they have, since Reynolds spoke to Breitbart on September 12, when the bill text hadn’t yet been released.

“Obamacare is unaffordable, unworkable and unsustainable. Here in Iowa, the Obamacare individual insurance market is collapsing, leaving 72,000 people with no options and skyrocketing costs in 2018,” Reynolds said. “Our state recently submitted a stopgap measure to the federal government for approval. The measure stops the immediate collapse created by Obamacare and provides a short-term health insurance solution for thousands of Iowa entrepreneurs, farmers, and retirees.”

The Iowa governor continued, “Long-term, Congress needs to replace Obamacare with market-driven health reform that’s affordable for everyday Iowans and empowers consumers. If Congress pursues block grants, they need to adequately fund them and provide maximum flexibility and control for states to sustain their Medicaid programs.”

Others calculated that Graham-Cassidy did not adequately fund the Medicaid block grants and would have raised costs, leaving “millions of additional people” uninsured. Where is the diligent woman who “takes perspectives from others” and “studies really hard”?

More from Breitbart:

Gov. Reynolds said that the 1990’s welfare reform worked because states were given enough flexibility and funding to manage their local entitlement programs. Reynolds charged, “Welfare reform passed in the 90’s worked because states were given maximum authority along with adequate funding. This model can work for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.”

If the governor turned her “perfectionist’s attention to detail” to the literature on welfare reform, she would realize that policy was a failure. Austin Frerick, who spent years doing research for a living, provided some depressing facts and figures on the shortcomings of welfare reform in Iowa and nationally. The block grant approach to welfare, which inspired Graham-Cassidy’s authors, allowed states “to use welfare reform money as a slush fund,” Dylan Matthews described here.

Although Reynolds doesn’t seem to have learned much about Medicaid or the individual insurance market lately, Iowans can learn a lot from how the governor handled the health care debate. Unlike some GOP governors, she didn’t research the effects of policies under consideration. She just kept repeating that Obamacare has problems.

Iowa journalists should recall this episode and react skeptically next year, when well-placed sources tell them Reynolds was deeply engaged in developing policies on tax reform or other priorities. More likely, her studies will be limited to memorizing the talking points she needs to promote the plan, after other Republicans have decided the way forward.

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  • Water "research"

    Reynolds will be facing Iowa water quality issues early next year when the Legislature gavels in. I’ll bet that by wild and strange coincidence, her deep study and obsessive research will lead her to want to do exactly what the Iowa Farm Bureau wants, which is basically to hand over as much public money as possible directly to farmers with as little accountability as possible.