What Exactly Congress Is Spending Your Dollars On

Ed Feulner /

Let’s say you were a financial adviser, and a family came to you with the following situation.

They make the median family income in the United States—$52,000. But last year they spent $61,000. That’s right, $9,000 more than they’re making, and it all went on the family credit card. That’s bad enough, but then you find out they already have $311,000 in debt. Would you say they have a problem?

I wish I could say this family was made up. Actually, this particular household isn’t real. But the “family” in this scenario is the federal government, and the amounts at stake are in the billions, not the thousands. The ratio of overspending, however, is accurate. So is the fact that the money they’re being so careless with is our tax dollars.

Ever wonder how a dollar of federal spending breaks down? Do you know what amount goes where? With tax season in full swing and Congress trying to agree on a new budget, it’s a good question to ask. You can find the answer, at least in broad strokes, in a new chart from The Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Federal Budget in Pictures.

fedbudget2

Spending on K-12 education takes 1 cent of each dollar. Transportation: 3 cents. National defense: 17 cents. “Income security,” a term that encompasses such things as tax credits for the poor and welfare programs: 19 cents. Net interest on the national debt: 7 cents.

But the big players are Social Security (24.3 cents) and spending on Medicaid, Medicare and other health care programs (26.3 cents). Such entitlements, which are beyond the normal budget process, take up more than half of every dollar the federal government spends. And they’re growing at an unsustainable rate.

320fedgovtgraphic

With so many billions flying around, it’s easy to lose track of just how much we’re talking about. Another chart shows us one way to get a handle on it: How much federal spending breaks down to per household. Basically, what’s your share of the budget? Today it’s $28,585. That’s two and a half times what it was in 1962: $11,792. (Both figures are in 2014 dollars.)

Think about that: $28,585. That’s more than half the median family income I mentioned at the beginning of this column. That’s more than enough for a new car, or to make a year’s worth of mortgage payments. And at the current rate of spending, it’s set to hit $34,632 by 2023. That’s only eight years from now.

Yet what does Congress normally do come budget time? Raises the debt ceiling. That’s government-speak for “get a higher credit card limit.” Except you and I would have to go, hat in hand, to our credit card company and ask if they’ll raise it (even assuming it was a responsible thing to do). Not federal lawmakers. They just vote to raise the debt ceiling, and presto—problem solved.

Well, not solved. Kicked down the road. That is what passes for “solved” these days.

debt-limit-growth-600

But it shouldn’t. Especially when you see the last chart I’d like to focus on: The one depicting how the debt limit has risen since 1965. From that year to 1998, the limit increased by $5.6 trillion. But over the last 12 years, the debt limit has jumped by $10.8 trillion.

Talk about unsustainable. It took Congress one-third as long to rack up more than twice as much debt. And the end isn’t even in sight.

Think about that the next time there’s talk of a government shutdown over a cut in the rate of how much spending will grow. Hardly anyone, even many so-called budget hawks, is making any serious attempt to cut spending.

So what’s your financial advice? Perhaps it’s time to let Congress know.

Originally published in The Washington Times 

How Wisconsin’s Right to Work Laws Could Boost Union Members - Daily Signal

How Wisconsin’s Right to Work Laws Could Boost Union Members

Ed Feulner / James Sherk /

Many wonder how right-to-work laws will affect Wisconsin. To see how, consider another question: Do monopolies help or hurt customers?

Until now, unions have had a monopoly in many Wisconsin workplaces. They didn’t have to persuade workers to purchase their services; they could force them to. Anyone who didn’t pay dues—averaging about $700 a year—lost his or her job.

A lack of competition leads to complacency in any organization, whether a business or a union. It is customers’ ability to shop elsewhere that gets them better service. Federal anti-trust law prohibits monopolies for exactly this reason.

If, say, AT&T had maintained its telecommunications monopoly, would Ma Bell have invented the iPhone?

Unions operate no differently. Right-to-work forces unions to work harder to represent their members. Just ask Gary Casteel, the new secretary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers. He spoke out in favor of workplace freedom laws last year, explaining that “it’s a voluntary system, and if you don’t think the system’s earning its keep, then you don’t have to pay.”

In fact, many unions do not earn their keep. Wages do not rise at most newly unionized companies. It is true that the average union member makes more than the average non-union member. But this primarily happens because unions tend to target larger—and higher-paying—firms for organizing drives. Taking that into account, wages rise just as quickly for workers who vote against unionizing as for those who vote for it.

Why would or should workers pay dues to a union that doesn’t raise their pay? Right-to-work pressures unions to deliver better working conditions.

Right-to-work also pressures unions to pay attention to all their members. Union contracts often disadvantage individual employees. Seniority-based layoffs, for example, force new hires to stand first in line for layoffs. Right-to-work lets them stop paying dues for the privilege of getting laid off first. This ability pressures unions to stop ignoring their concerns. Indeed, customers usually get better service when they can shop elsewhere.

Unions justify forced dues by arguing stronger unions raise wages. They prefer to call right-to-work the “right-to-work for less.”

On the surface, they appear to have a point. Government statistics show right-to-work states have below-average wages. But this overlooks workers’ real purchasing power. Right-to-work states also have below-average living costs.

Take Wisconsin, for example. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows wages in Wisconsin are 5% below the national average. But Wisconsin’s living costs are even further below-average. Consequently, Wisconsinites enjoy slightly above-average living standards. New Yorkers or Californians make more on paper, but their earnings do not stretch as far. Most researchers accounting for living cost differences find that workers make just as much or more in right-to-work states.

Recently the Economic Policy Institute—a left-wing think tank—claimed the opposite. I replicated the institute’s study. I found that EPI made several methodological errors, such as failing to account for measurement error in its control variables. Correcting these errors changed the conclusion: Right-to-work laws have no statistically detectable effect on private-sector wages.

Federal law allows unions to bargain on behalf of all workers at a company. If they do, they must represent all employees equally, whether or not they pay dues. However, federal law also allows unions to negotiate contracts only covering their members.

The Supreme Court has long upheld “members’ only” union contracts. Wisconsin unions cannot force non-members to pay dues—but they don’t have to bargain for them either. Unions in Wisconsin should stop doing so and become members’ only. This would be a win-win solution for everyone.

Members’ only contracts would eliminate “free riding.” They would release unions of any obligation to represent workers who do not pay dues. Most unionized employers also would rather negotiate with a members’ only union. This would give them flexibility to hire workers who dislike parts of the union contract. (Many highly performing employees, for example, will not work for seniority-based raises at unionized companies.)

Most of all, members’ only unions would let individual workers choose what works best for them. Employees who see value in union representation could pay for it. Employees who see little value in it could opt out. Workers who like seniority systems could join them without forcing reluctant colleagues on board, too. And the need to attract members would force unions to pay closer attention to workers’ desires.

Wisconsin’s unions must now compete for their members’ dollars. This may reduce their membership. But if they rise to the challenge, it could instead mean better workplace representation. Competition—not monopolies—serves customers and workers best.

Originally published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

How a Pastor Reacted to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law - Daily Signal

How a Pastor Reacted to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law

Ed Feulner / James Sherk / Jamie Jackson /

On Thursday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, creating a firestorm in the Hoosier State. The legislation allows residents to freely practice their religious beliefs while opponents believe it will allow businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian patrons.

>>> Read More: Mike Pence Signs Religious Freedom Bill

In recent days several organizations have threatened to boycott the state over passage of the bill. Some continue to question why supporters of religious freedom have remained “silent” over the issue.

According to a recent commentary by Ryan Anderson and Sarah Torre, both of The Heritage Foundation, the law provides balance by setting a high bar for the government to meet when it comes to restricting religious freedom.

“A robust conception of religious liberty provides every person the freedom to seek the truth, form beliefs, and live according to the dictates of his or her conscience—whether at home, in worship, or at work,” according to Anderson and Torre.

>>> Commentary: Indiana Protects Religious Liberty. Why That’s Good Policy.

Washington, D.C., area pastor Jesse Johnson tells The Daily Signal that religious liberty is not bad, although he believes the subject is being characterized in a negative way.

“The irony of the religious freedom act in Indiana is that [the law] didn’t hold up religious freedom as an absolute—it says religious freedom is one thing that needs to be balanced with other compelling interests,” said Johnson.

“People say it makes it legal to discriminate against people, no it doesn’t,” Johnson added. “It doesn’t undercut any existing rights, it just means if the government wants to do something they have to demonstrate it’s the least restrictive means of doing it.”

A Woman Accused of Removing a 7-Month Baby From a Mother’s Womb Is Not Being Charged With Murder. Why That Has Sparked a Legal Debate. - Daily Signal

A Woman Accused of Removing a 7-Month Baby From a Mother’s Womb Is Not Being Charged With Murder. Why That Has Sparked a Legal Debate.

Ed Feulner / James Sherk / Jamie Jackson / Kelsey Harkness /

The decision not to charge a Colorado woman with murder for the death of an unborn seven-month-old baby has reinvigorated a debate over when states should legally recognize a fetus as a human being.

Dynel Lane, the woman accused of cutting and removing a seven-month-old baby from a mother’s body, will not face murder charges, the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office said on Thursday.

Michelle Wilkins was brutally attacked on March 18 when she responded to a Craig’s List advertisement in Longmont, Co., from a woman selling baby clothes out of her apartment.

Investigators say that when Wilkins, 26, arrived to the apartment, Lane, who according to The Denver Post was a certified nurse’s aide from 2010 to 2012, stabbed Wilkins in the stomach and removed the fetus from her womb.

Tragically, the seven-month-old baby died as a result of the attack, while Wilkins survived after spending over a week in the hospital.

(Photo: Go Fund Me/Michelle Wilkins)

(Photo: Go Fund Me/Michelle Wilkins)

Colorado, unlike some other states, criminalizes assault of a pregnant woman, but doesn’t recognize the unborn child as a second victim of the crime.

Currently, Colorado is one of only 12 states in the U.S. that doesn’t recognize the killing of an unborn child as a form of homicide.

“Under Colorado law, essentially, there is no way murder charges can be brought if it’s not established that the fetus lived as a child outside the body of the mother,” District Attorney Stan Garnett said Thursday in response to the decision not to charge Lane with murder.

On Friday, The Boulder County Coroner’s Office determined there were no signs that Wilkins’ baby, who she planned to name Aurora, had lived outside the womb.

Last year, pro-life groups brought forth a ballot initiative popularly known as the “personhood” amendment, which attempted to protect pregnant women and unborn children by defining “person” and “child” in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado Wrongful Death Act to include unborn human beings.

If the law recognized a fetus as a “person” or human being, Lane could have been charged with murder or some form of homicide.

But in November, after Planned Parenthood spent more than $1.8 million lobbying against Colorado’s “personhood” initiative, the measure was defeated.

Critics like Planned Parenthood argued the “personhood” proposal would interfere with women’s ability to access abortions and other health care services.

“[V]oters flatly rejected the dangerous personhood amendment that would have banned abortion,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund in a press release.

Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, a pro-life law firm and advocacy group in Washington, D.C., admits that Colorado’s measure was ambiguously written, but argues there’s a dire need for the state to establish a fetal homicide law to protect women and unborn children in these types of cases.

“Colorado needs to join the majority of states that have a fetal homicide law,” he told The Daily Signal in a phone interview on Friday.

Planned Parenthood did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment regarding this report.

Despite the hurdles that exist in charging Lane with murder given Colorado’s current legal landscape, Forsythe is hopeful that her tragedy will spark change.

“Incidents like this often spark changes in the law and frankly are sometimes needed to get courts or legislators to act.” -Clarke Forsythe

“This incident could be landmark in changing the law either because the legislator might change the fetal homicide law or the criminal law, or the court might allow a wrongful death suit if the child’s viable even if it was stillborn,” he said.

Incidents like this often spark changes in the law and frankly are sometimes needed to get courts or legislators to act.

The Big Picture: Why Yemen Matters - Daily Signal

The Big Picture: Why Yemen Matters

Ed Feulner / James Sherk / Jamie Jackson / Kelsey Harkness / Peter Brookes /

While the United States moved out of Yemen last week, this week a Saudi Arabia-led coalition of a reported 10 mostly Arab states moved into Yemen with airstrikes aimed at the continuing chaos there.

The immediate—but not the only—target of the coalition air campaign is the Houthi rebels who recently swept out of northern Yemen, captured the capital, Sanaa, and are moving to push the recognized Yemeni government into the sea in the south.

While the conflict is currently an air campaign, seemingly designed to punish the aggressors, slow their advance and perhaps push them back to the negotiating table, an escalation involving coalition ground troops is possible.

Indeed, in a media gaggle  in Washington, D.C., the Saudi ambassador to the United States stated the coalition was ready to do “whatever it takes” to protect the government of Yemeni President Abed Raboo Mansour Hadi.

But while the direct target of the Saudi-led coalition is the Houthis, the indirect target is elsewhere. The (mostly) Sunni Arab intervention into Yemen is about Shia Persian Iran—1,500 miles away.

As we know, the Iran-backed (Shia) Houthis are taking it to the Saudi-supported (Sunni) Yemeni central government. The rebels may seize the city of Aden as well, Hadi’s displaced capital, possibly turning Yemen over to an ally of Iran.

While Tehran’s ties with the Houthi are murky, the rebels will need outside support if they take over the country and could deepen relations with the Iranians. In other words, an Iranian satellite state on the Saudi southern border is possible.

Since Riyadh (and others) see Tehran as not only ambitious in the Middle East and the Muslim world but as ascendant in the region (e.g., Iraq and Syria), expansion into Yemen spells “trouble.”

If Yemen becomes a client state of Iran, Tehran could send the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, intelligence and security forces there to assist the Houthis and advance its interests.

Iran’s naval forces could make port calls or even be stationed in Yemen, in close proximity to the Red Sea/Suez Canal, the Gulf of Aden, and the Arabian Sea.

Equally troubling, Iran, with the largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East, could also deploy these powerful military assets to Yemen, threatening regional land and sea targets and transit lanes.

Essentially, the Arabs and their partners here see the potential for plenty of Persian perfidy in Yemen.

The coalition is, of course, worried about the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, in light of the death and destruction they’re causing elsewhere, but? considering the threat felt from a major power like Iran, it’s likely secondary.

One can’t also help but sense the coalition feels a need to deal with Iran in Yemen because of declining levels of U.S. regional engagement, a possible warming between Washington and Tehran over a nuclear deal and increasing Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq.

One thing is clear though: Yemen isn’t only a terrorism tinderbox, it’s become a geopolitical one, too.

Originally published in the Boston Herald 

What Conservatives Get Wrong About the Middle East - Daily Signal

What Conservatives Get Wrong About the Middle East

Ed Feulner / James Sherk / Jamie Jackson / Kelsey Harkness / Peter Brookes / Ted Bromund /

In the wake of Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in Israel, American leaders—both conservatives and liberals—should rethink their approach to the Middle East. Conservatives need to recognize more clearly who our enemies are; liberals need to learn to recognize our friends.

Over the last six years, conservatives have made two errors regarding the Middle East. First, they’ve emphasized the importance of the Iranian nuclear program. But the problem is not really the program; the problem is the nature of the Iranian regime that controls the program.

If Iran were a peaceful, democratic state in a placid neighborhood, its nuclear program would not be problematic. But Iran is none of those things: It is a thuggish theocracy that is feared by its neighbors.

By focusing on Iran’s nuclear program, conservatives have made it easy for President Obama to argue that, if a negotiated agreement can be reached, the problem of Iran would be solved. Not true. Not only does Iran not want to give up its program, it would still be violently destabilizing even without nukes.

The second error conservatives have made is to place too much emphasis on the dangers of the Islamic State group. Now, make no mistake: The Islamic State is evil. It does pose risks. But ultimately, states exist to exert power, and though the Islamic State pretends to be a state, it is a long way from being one.

Iran is a state. It can build a nuclear weapon. It has an intercontinental ballistic missile program. The Islamic State group can cut off heads, but Iran could soon have the ability to decapitate entire nations. When President George W. Bush said the greatest danger we face as a nation is a nuclear weapon in the hands of fanatics, he was right.

Today, the Islamic State does not pose that danger. Iran does. And the fact that the group is trying to control territory is a big advantage for us. When Islamist fanatics from around the world gather in big groups in the desert, it makes them better targets.

From Afghanistan to Egypt, Islamist regimes have proved to be far more popular in theory than they are in practice. That doesn’t always make them vulnerable to rebellions: They have too many guns for that. But the Islamic State is teaching people to hate Islamism, and that’s a good thing.

The liberal errors are the mirror image of the conservative ones—but far more important, because there is a liberal in the White House. The first liberal error is simple: Obama has shown more hostility to Netanyahu, the elected leader of a friendly democracy, than he has to the Iranian regime.

Compare Obama’s ungracious treatment of Netanyahu to his friendly Nowruz (the Persian New Year) message to “the people and the leaders of Iran,” in which he condemns “people . . . who oppose a diplomatic resolution.” No points for guessing who those “people” are.

That error leads to the second: Obama’s effort to engineer a détente with Iran. His outreach began as soon as he entered the Oval Office in 2009, and it hasn’t stopped since. We’ve now reached the point where Secretary of State John Kerry says we need to negotiate with Syria’s Bashar Assad, Iran’s murderous lackey.

By talking up the Islamic State’s evils, conservatives have justified Obama’s desire to cooperate with Iran. Today, we are not aligning with Iran to fight the Islamic State; we are fighting the Islamic State as a way to justify detente with Iran.

But it is fear of Shia Iran that drives Sunni Islamic State. We are feeding the problem, and we are aligning with the greater danger in Iran to do it. And that is Obama’s biggest error of all.

Originally published in Newsday 

Let’s Start Figuring Out Whether Government Programs Are Working or Not - Daily Signal

Let’s Start Figuring Out Whether Government Programs Are Working or Not

Ed Feulner / James Sherk / Jamie Jackson / Kelsey Harkness / Peter Brookes / Ted Bromund / David Muhlhausen /

Earlier this month, the House Budget Committee proposed spending almost $3.8 trillion in fiscal year 2016—one-fifth of the country’s total economic output. Yet much of that huge amount will be spent with little regard to efficiency and accountability.

The sad truth is that, for many federal programs, we have no way of knowing whether they are working well, poorly or not at all. It is not uncommon for programs to operate for decades—with total costs running to tens and hundreds of billions—without ever undergoing thorough scientific evaluations.

And there’s no guarantee that politicians will pay much attention to such assessments, if they don’t like the results. Consider Head Start, the pre-K education program for disadvantaged children. A large-scale evaluation using random assignment demonstrated that almost all the benefits of the program disappear by kindergarten. Yet Congress continues to pump billions into the failed program.

Another policy disaster that Congress refuses to end is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. A random assignment evaluation found that students participating in after-school educational activities under this program were more likely to have disciplinary and behavioral problems, such as getting suspended from school.

Far too frequently, Washington measures success by the amount of money spent to alleviate social problems, rather than the degree to which funded programs actually reduce the problems. While continually spending taxpayer dollars may symbolize the compassion of program advocates, it does not mean that society is any better off because of it.

Now a movement is underway to improve this situation. The evidence-based policy movement seeks to inform and influence policymakers through scientifically rigorous evaluations of the effectiveness of government programs. In other words, the movement provides tools to figure out what works and what does not work.

Scientifically rigorous impact evaluations are essential. They can help policymakers exercise informed oversight of government programs and be more effective stewards of the federal purse. There is little merit in continuing programs that fail to ameliorate their targeted social problems. Continued funding should be contingent on hard data that prove a program is getting the intended job done.

Since Congress suspended the debt ceiling last year, the federal debt has risen to $18.1 trillion. Now that the ceiling is back in place, Congress will have to cut spending or raise taxes to avoid a government shutdown this fall. Given that worrisome fiscal reality, it is imperative that Congress subject all federal programs to rigorous evaluations. Americans deserve better than having Congress continue to waste their tax money on programs that don’t produce results that justify the investment.

To help remedy this problem, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., last year introduced the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act. The two lawmakers are expected to introduce a revised version of the bill within a few weeks.

It would create an Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission made up of 15 unpaid members—academic researchers, data management experts, and program administrators—appointed by the president and by the majority and minority leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Over the course of its 15-month life span, the commission’s main objective would be to advance evidence-based policymaking within the federal government. In addition to expanding the use of data to evaluate program effectiveness, the commission also would be charged with making sure that the privacy rights of individuals participating in the programs are protected.

Changing the federal government’s propensity to measure success by the amount it spends will not be easy. However, creating an Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission could be a big culture changer for Washington, one that could help Congress fund programs that work and pull the plug on those that don’t.

Originally published in The Washington Times 

Obama Wants Doctors Paid Differently. Here’s the Downsides to His Proposed Way. - Daily Signal

Obama Wants Doctors Paid Differently. Here’s the Downsides to His Proposed Way.

Ed Feulner / James Sherk / Jamie Jackson / Kelsey Harkness / Peter Brookes / Ted Bromund / David Muhlhausen / John O'Shea, M.D. /

 As part of the 5-year anniversary White House celebration of his health care law, President Obama included his goals for health reform going forward.

Among those goals is a blindly ambitious attempt to link health care payments to value.

The Obama administration  wants to base payments on quality and to incentivize doctors to spend more time with patients. But there are downsides to this approach.

Obama’s remarks follow the recent announcement from Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell regarding the agency’s goal of tying 30 percent of traditional, or fee-for-service, Medicare payments to quality or value through alternative payment models, such as accountable care organizations, which are networks of various health care providers working (and getting paid) together, or bundled payment arrangements by the end of 2016, and tying 50 percent of payments to these models by the end of 2018. Health and Human Services also set a goal of tying 85 percent of all traditional Medicare payments to quality or value by 2016 and 90 percent by 2018.

Although quality, value and more time for patient care are laudable goals, there are serious problems with the president’s ambitious timeline. First of all, the evidence so far indicates that transitioning doctors into alternative payment models will not provide them with more time to spend with patients and simply labelling health care delivery as “patient-centered” will not improve the patient-doctor relationship.

A recent analysis by the RAND Corporation found that, so far, alternative health care models have had the effect of increasing the overall quantity and intensity of physician work because of growing patient volume expectations. The study also found that the multiplicity of pay-for-performance and other incentive programs has created a heavy administrative burden for physician practices. All of this was cited as an important contributing factor to the increase in physician burnout.

Another major problem is that the president’s blind ambition seems to have no connection to the current realities of payment and delivery reform in health care. According to another recent RAND report, we still know very little about how best to design and implement value-based payment programs to achieve stated goals and what constitutes a successful program.

Furthermore, the quality measures used to assess physician performance often have no relevance to the actual patient care that is being provided. Even accountable care organizations, the poster-child of alternative payment models, are off to a rocky start. According to early Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services results, less than half (54) of the initial 114 organizations that participated in accountable care organizations achieved savings and of those, just 29 saved enough money to receive “shared savings” bonuses. In addition, the 29 participating pioneer accountable care organizations (more experienced organizations) showed that only nine achieved significant savings.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t pursue better ways of delivering and paying for health care. But, before linking an ever increasing amount of health care payment to value, we need to have a clear idea of what that means.

The True Facts About Religious Freedom Laws - Daily Signal

The True Facts About Religious Freedom Laws

Ed Feulner / James Sherk / Jamie Jackson / Kelsey Harkness / Peter Brookes / Ted Bromund / David Muhlhausen / John O'Shea, M.D. / Sarah Torre /

The mainstream media has launched an all-out blitz over a new law that protects the fundamental freedom of Indiana citizens from unnecessary and unreasonable government coercion.

The media’s gross mischaracterizations of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act ignore the truth: Religious Freedom Restoration Acts prevent government discrimination against religious free exercise and simply provide a way to balance religious liberty with compelling government interests.

Religious liberty isn’t an absolute right. Religious liberty doesn’t always trump. Religious liberty is balanced with concerns for a compelling state interest that’s being pursued in the least-restrictive means possible.

The First Amendment Partnership, an organization whose mission is “to promote and protect religious freedom for people of all faiths,” created the below infographic separating myth from fact on Religious Freedom Restoration Acts:

RFRAFacts

As Ryan T. Anderson and I explained Thursday, the Indiana law is good policy. Like the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Indiana’s new law prohibits substantial government burdens on religious exercise unless the government can show a compelling interest in burdening religious liberty and does so through the least restrictive means.

These protections for religious freedom provide a commonsense way to balance the fundamental right to religious liberty with compelling government interests.

By passing its Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Indiana joins the 19 other states that have implemented such laws. Eleven additional states have religious liberty protections that state courts have interpreted to provide a similar level of protection. These commonsense laws place the onus on the government to justify its actions in burdening the free exercise of religion.

Americans Want to Drive, Not Take Mass Transit. But Government Spending Doesn’t Reflect That. - Daily Signal

Americans Want to Drive, Not Take Mass Transit. But Government Spending Doesn’t Reflect That.

Ed Feulner / James Sherk / Jamie Jackson / Kelsey Harkness / Peter Brookes / Ted Bromund / David Muhlhausen / John O'Shea, M.D. / Sarah Torre / Michael Sargent /

The Highway Trust Fund—which provides funding for building and maintaining the nation’s roads and bridges as well as transit, such as buses, streetcars, light rail and metros—will exhaust its operating funds by the end of May. Now more than ever, it is important for the nation to rethink the way it invests in transportation.

As Heritage Visiting Fellow Wendell Cox writes in his latest report, “America Needs a Rational Transit Policy,” the federal insistence on transit spending and other diversions—which constitute almost one-fifth of transportation spending—is not in tune with America’s transportation needs and consumer preferences. As Cox points out, when deciding how to divvy up limited resources it is against the nation’s interest to devote a large amount of federal money to expensive transit projects. Cox argues that Highway Trust Fund money would better be spent on road infrastructure for the following reasons:

Americans increasingly prefer to drive. From 1980 to 2012, transit’s share of commuter trips fell by nearly 20 percent, while driving alone has increased by the same amount. Even with a glut of federal money subsidizing urban transit, its all-day share of urban travel has fallen by 30 percent since 1982.

Transit is more expensive. Transit is a whopping 4 times as expensive per passenger mile as driving a car or SUV (including the cost of the car, operating costs, highway fees and government road expenditures).

Transit does not reduce congestion. Since 1982, urban traffic congestion has increased by 150 percent in the 52 metropolitan areas with populations over 1 million, despite the fixation with building rail systems in major cities.

Transit provides little help to most low-income commuters. Only 5.9 percent of low-income commuters (those making $15,000 or less annually) take transit, only slightly more than 4.7 percent of higher earners. Similarly, low-income commuters are almost as likely to drive a car to work as higher earners, as transit provides access to fewer jobs.

Mobility is important for the economy. Research shows that metropolitan areas tend to experience stronger economic growth if residents can reach a larger percentage of the jobs in a short period of time (such as 30 minutes). Only cars can minimize travel times while providing maximum access to jobs. Indeed, auto commuters can reach ten times more jobs than transit commuters—and can reach those jobs in two-thirds of the time.

This is not to say that transit is an inherently inferior mode of transportation in all instances; mass transit performs well in six legacy cities, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston and Washington.

Rather, sound policy would allow people to set their own transportation priorities instead of force federal money into transit programs that would not serve the population well. For this reason, states and localities should have the primary say in the transit projects that they build—not lawmakers and special interests in the District of Columbia.

Congress should keep this in mind when considering how to shore up the highway trust fund in May. A good approach would stop diversions that fund unnecessary transit projects instead of road maintenance, and would give states more authority to build the transportation infrastructure that best suits their needs. For more information on why the nation needs to rethink its current approach to transportation, see “America Needs a Rational Transit Policy”.