Labor Pains: Why the Birth Rate Is Down and What That Means

Madaline Donnelly /

When Maria Harrill was growing up in suburban Maryland in the early 1990s, she kept a journal outlining all the things she’d do when she was a mom.

She attentively monitored her own family of 10 and—more like a discerning social worker stopping by for a visit than the second youngest of a brood of eight—noted things she liked, and disliked, about her household.

Today, the journal reads like a time-capsuled to-do-list for the 26-year-old mother of two: “Always read to your kids,” for example, is scribbled down next to “Never argue in front of the children.”

“I should go back and read it all, see how I’m living up to my own standards,” the former paralegal says with a laugh.

It’s clear that Maria wanted a family of her own from the get-go, and that she’s comfortable owning her choices. It’s also become increasingly clear that her story, of growing up in a big family and wanting to replicate that for herself at an early age, is no longer the norm for a majority of young American men and women.

We see this play out on television and in the movies (think “Girls” or “Wedding Crashers”). We hear it in graduation speeches lauding endless opportunities and paths. And then there’s the data, painting a picture of career-driven millennials who are the slowest to have kids of any generation in U.S. history.

But what, if anything, do these changing norms mean for those couples that still choose to start families young? For society at large?

Maria Harrill and family. (Photo: Courtesy Maria Harill)

Maria Harrill and family. (Photo: Courtesy Maria Harill)

A New Normal

There are many factors potentially at work today discouraging young people from having children that it’s hard to know for sure what’s really behind the dip in America’s birth rate—or to blame for holding off.

Between the Great Recession, the necessity of a college education (and therefore, the magnitude of student loan debt in the U.S.), the price of homeownership, and delayed marriage due to social or financial reasons, it seems more a storm of inhibiting issues than an identifiable trend.

Some younger moms also theorize about the both assumed and realistic social implications of motherhood, and its ability to deter young women from having kids.

“Some of my friends are getting engaged, but they have no plans of having babies until much later on,” says Suzanne Kioko, a 26-year-old registered nurse and mother currently expecting her second child. “They have this notion of life is kind of going to suck as soon as you have kids. And they want to get in all their good times before they [have children].”

Regardless of its cause, we do know that the birth rate drop is meaningful. Just last month, the Urban Institute published a widely circulated paper outlining a 15 percent decrease of American women in their twenties having children. Previously, the birth rate was largely stable for this demographic from the 1980s until around 2007.

Researchers Nan Marie Astone, Steven Martin, and H. Elizabeth Peters authored the study and found that birth rates to women aged 20 to 29 fell, dropping from 1,118 in 1,000 women to 948 in 1,000 women in 2012. Simultaneously, strong immigration rates which would have helped to supplant such a decline dipped, likely because of the struggling economy.

Worth noting, all races experienced a decline in giving birth, with the largest drop being seen among Hispanic women. For white women in particular, the birth rate decline was linked directly to a marital decline.

(Chart: The Urban Institute)

(Chart: The Urban Institute)

“Marriage has come a capstone to adulthood, rather than an entryway into adulthood as it has traditionally been,” says Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst with The Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity. “Today, individuals often wait to marry until they have achieved a level of independence marked by completing college, establishing a career, and perhaps even having already purchased a home.”

It’s too early to tell whether these young women will “match” previous generations by having babies in their 30s or later. Historically speaking, the birth rate also fell in the early 1930s and late 1970s, aligning with other periods of economic struggle, before bouncing back and evening out.

“If these low birth rates to women in their twenties continue without a commensurate increase in birth rates to older women,” the Urban Institute researchers wrote, “the United States might eventually face the type of generational imbalance that currently characterizes Japan and some European countries.”

Much Ado About … Something?

So what do these “warnings” really amount to? According to Jonathan V. Last, a senior writer at The Weekly Standard and author of “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting,” America is facing a “demographic cliff,” or a population replacement rate that simply isn’t sustainable, as he wrote in “The Wall Street Journal.” In his opinion, population-dependent programs like Social Security—along with tax-dependent organizations like the military—could suffer.

“Decline isn’t about whether Democrats or Republicans hold power,” he writes. “It isn’t about political ideology at all. At its most basic, it’s about the sustainability of human capital.”

Last goes on to cite social and economic problems in countries like China, Japan, and Mexico, tracing their origins to things like China’s infamous one-child policy or the overall decline in the marriage rate in Japan.

Anthropologists have also written about the economics of European nations like Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, blaming declining demographics and an inability to develop strong economies. In Russia, the government has offered monetary incentives for having kids, and in Denmark, independent organizations like travel-company Spies Rejser have launched campaigns asking citizens to “Do It for Denmark!”

(Chart: Urban Institute)

(Chart: The Urban Institute)

Recently, 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., along with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, proposed a tax reform plan that included a child tax credit.

In practice, lower birth rates probably don’t make a huge difference in the lives of young American mothers yet, outside of occasionally awkward conversations at work and a more difficult time making friends who are “in the same boat,” as Suzanne says.

“Nowadays, you don’t have a lot of younger moms having babies, so you kind of feel like you’re on your own,” she adds. “Most of your friends are still working and doing their thing, so socially, I think it’s changed.”

Maria agrees: “I remember I was working at a law firm downtown [in Washington, D.C.], and I was still working when I got pregnant. It was definitely weird. It was like a glance, or a look, or a comment, and you could tell that it’s, ‘Oh wow, you just got married and really, you want to start a family already?’”

Kassie Novak, a 26-year-old mother who lives in Chicago with her husband and 18-month-old son, has found that making friends with other mothers takes a significant amount of work because of the age difference.

“I do try to put an effort into meeting other moms. It’s much harder than I would have imagined,” she says. “Just about every mom I have met here is about five to 15 years older than me … I used to joke with my husband that I think the moms at the park or at baby classes think I’m the nanny. But now that my son is older, I am much more comfortable approaching and chatting with other moms.”

Dollars and Sense

Aside from shifting social realities, young families are also making fiscal sacrifices in order to afford a family, reflecting the estimated $250,000 it currently takes to raise a child in America.

And while the share of moms who did not work hit an all-time low in 1999 at 23 percent, it rose to 29 percent by 2012, according to the Pew Research Center. This group includes those who are unable to find work or disabled.

Suzanne, Maria, and Kassie, employed full-time before having their children, are all working in some capacity outside of the home, whether it’s picking up spare shifts at the hospital or selling skin care products in their free time, as is the case with Kassie.

“We’re renting an apartment,” Maria says of her Reston, Va., home. “All of our couple friends have been talking, and it looks like we’ll all be renting … for a while. Houses just cost a lot. Unless you have a really great paying job, it’s a little bit harder.”

Maria and her husband are also sharing one car. “Two would be awesome, but it’s not realistic right now,” she says. “But I’d much rather have another kid as opposed to another car. Kids are around a long time, but cars come and go.”

There are possible benefits for these families, though, including things like more open slots at schools and readily available vaccines. The Urban Institute study, using census data, also suggests a lower birth rate could potentially mean greater social mobility in the future for babies born to millennials.

In contrast, researchers found that among baby boomers and Gen Xers, “single parenthood increased among already disadvantaged groups,” and furthered income inequality between high- and low-income families.

In certain circumstances, a decrease in the birth rate could also mean more stable environments for children.

“As of 2010, the average age at first birth for a college educated woman was about 30, whereas in 1970 it was around 26,” Sheffield says. “Among those with less than a high school education, the average age of motherhood was about 18 in 1970, whereas today it’s around 20.”

For their part, the millennial mothers The Daily Signal spoke with seem content with their decision to start a family young.

“Being a young mom was what I’ve always wanted,” Kassie says. “I believe motherhood to be my calling.”

David Axelrod Evaluates Obama’s Handling of Racial Issues, Inner City Problems - The Daily Signal

David Axelrod Evaluates Obama’s Handling of Racial Issues, Inner City Problems

Madaline Donnelly / Genevieve Wood /

In my first two interviews with former Obama senior advisor David Axelrod, we talked about the growing divide among “Red” and “Blue” America and his predictions for the types of candidates and policy issues most likely to shape the 2016 presidential election.

Now, in our final segment, we discuss the impact of racial tensions in places like Ferguson and Baltimore, and why the issue of race and the state of America’s inner cities hasn’t improved more, even under the country’s first African-American president.

Takeaway of Reform: It’d Be Harder for Authorities to Take Away Your Cash, Property - The Daily Signal

Takeaway of Reform: It’d Be Harder for Authorities to Take Away Your Cash, Property

Madaline Donnelly / Genevieve Wood / Ken McIntyre /

The Internal Revenue Service seized Lyndon McLellan’s life savings of $107,702 just because agents didn’t like the size of the convenience store owner’s bank deposits. If a bipartisan proposal before Congress had been the law of the land, though, the IRS could not have justified the money grab.

Countless Americans like McLellan, who never intended to commit a crime, will avoid his heartache—and that of thousands of others—if Congress acts to curb the ability of law enforcement agencies to seize individuals’ money and property without even filing a charge.

“I’m no politician, but I hope people say they need to change this,” McLellan, a North Carolina resident, said in an interview with The Daily Signal, referring to how the IRS was able to empty his bank account.

Changing that is the intent of lawmakers who propose to reform the process known in legal circles as civil asset forfeiture.

“Unjust seizures like Lyndon McLellan experienced are exactly why Congress needs to pass the FAIR Act,” @RepWalberg says.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., early this year teamed with Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., to introduce companion bills to severely curtail the practice by the IRS and other federal agencies. Bills from others also are in the offing.

In recent days, The Daily Signal has recounted the stories of four Americans—McLellan, Massachusetts motel owner Russ Caswell, and North Carolina business owners Tom and Marla Bednar—who were startled to learn that federal officials had drained their bank accounts.

Hundreds of readers reacted with disbelief and anger.

“Whoever ordered the money to be taken needs to be prosecuted for armed robbery,” Daily Signal reader Harold Logan commented on the McLellan case, adding that “stealing money and then giving it back doesn’t nullify the crime.”

“Again? Why do we have to live in fear of our own government?” reader Shaun Capaldo commented on the Bednar case. “Why do small business owners have to constantly look over their shoulders? … Please, can we just get some common sense in our leadership?”

Building a Coalition for Reform

Unless Congress acts, authorities can continue to confiscate large amounts of cash from unsuspecting citizens such as a young man from Michigan who was relieved of $16,000 in April by Drug Enforcement Agency agents who boarded the train he was taking to Los Angeles to start a business.

>>> IRS Seized $107,000 From This North Carolina Man’s Bank Account

Leading the charge for reform is the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit, public interest law firm founded in 1991 and headquartered in Arlington, Va.

The institute has helped organize a coalition of two dozen groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union on the left to the American Conservative Union Foundation on the right. Most recently the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents small business owners, joined the reformers.

An NFIB survey found that an eye-popping 92 percent of small business owners said clear and convincing evidence of a crime should be presented before authorities can seize assets.

“People can’t believe that this is going on,” @IJ’s Darpana Sheth says.

“They agree that civil forfeiture has become one of the greatest threats not only to our property rights but to due process and basic fairness,” Darpana Sheth, the lawyer in charge of the Institute for Justice’s initiative on the issue, told The Daily Signal.

“People can’t believe that this is going on,” she said. “So there really is a lot of support [for reform] from these kinds of organizations and from the public at large.”

A poll of likely voters last fall by Rasmussen Reports found that 70 percent said a criminal conviction should be necessary before authorities can seize property. Another 13 percent disagreed and 17 percent weren’t certain.

The same survey found Americans split on the motivation of law enforcement agencies, with 38 percent saying that it’s more likely they seize property to ensure public safety and 42 percent saying it’s a major revenue source. Another 20 percent were undecided.

150527_ForfeitPhoto2_McIntyre

(Photo: iStock)

Most recently, the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have indicated they too will introduce bills to curtail government seizures of cash and property.

Non-profit advocacy groups such as the Institute for Justice, however, see the Paul-Walberg legislation—called the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act, or FAIR Act—as the model for what needs to be done.

>>> Government to Return $107,702 Seized From Convenience Store Owner

“Unjust seizures like Lyndon McLellan experienced are exactly why Congress needs to pass the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act,” Walberg told The Daily Signal in an email, adding:

As stunning stories of abuse pop up around the country, it adds to the growing sense of urgency that legislative action is necessary to protect the American people’s due process and private property rights. Thankfully, lawmakers and organizations across the ideological spectrum recognize this and have joined forces.

Ending the Profit Incentive

Civil asset forfeiture is a tool that allows law enforcement to seize cash and property suspected of being related to a crime. The practice began decades ago to go after money launderers and drug dealers, but has become a way to pad law enforcement budgets.

Authorities have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion since 2008 under the federal Equitable Sharing Program that allows state and local agencies to take the bulk of the proceeds.

The Paul-Walberg legislation would end the profit incentive for law enforcement agencies in seizing cash, cars, houses and other property by:

The legislation also would increase the burden of proof on government to show property is subject to seizure by requiring “clear and consistent evidence,” the highest standard in civil proceedings, rather than the current “preponderance of evidence.”

Finally, the bill would require law enforcement to show that merchants or businessmen such as McLellan had criminal intent to avoid scrutiny in making bank deposits under $10,000.

The offense of “structuring” involves consistently making deposits of less than $10,000 in cash to avoid reporting requirements for banks aimed at criminals such as drug traffickers. In 2012, the IRS made 639 seizures involving what the agency considered suspicious bank deposits, up from 114 in 2005 for a total of $242 million, according to an Institute for Justice report.

The organization also found that the IRS made no claim of criminal activity in a third or more of those cases, other than cash deposits under $10,000, and had to return roughly half of the seized money—indicating the agency could not justify its actions.

“Our laws presume you are guilty until you can prove your innocence,” @RandPaul says of seizing assets.

“Civil forfeiture turns justice on its head,” Paul testified April 15 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Our current laws presume you are guilty until you can prove your innocence.”

The Kentucky Republican said lawmakers have an opportunity “to end an injustice” that “disproportionately affects” blacks, Hispanics and other minorities.

>>> After Secret Service Seized $115,000, North Carolina Couple Fight for ‘Justice’

Lead co-sponsors of Walberg’s bill in the House include Reps. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Scott Garrett, R-N.J. Paul’s co-sponsors in the Senate include Angus King, Jr., an independent from Maine.

‘Skewed Against Innocent Property Owners’

In a legal memorandum, Heritage Foundation scholar John Malcolm cites example after example of abuse by law enforcement officials as he outlines the history of a good idea that has been distorted over the years, especially as budgets were squeezed.

The result is “many stories of innocent victims” and procedures “skewed against innocent property owners,” Malcolm writes, showing the practice “has gone awry and is in serious need of reform.”

Malcolm, director of Heritage’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and the think tank’s Gilbertson senior legal fellow, adds:

Some law enforcement authorities focus more on getting money and property and less on catching criminals—behavior that some have referred to as a form of legalized bounty hunting. Police and prosecutors end up having a substantial budgetary stake in forfeiture because in most cases, the proceeds from any forfeited property are returned to the agency that seized it for its use, thereby providing a direct funding mechanism that is totally outside the legislative appropriations and oversight process.

In 1986, the year after the Justice Department’s Assets Forfeiture Fund was created, it took in $93.7 million in seized money. Twenty years later, annual deposits topped $1 billion, according to figures compiled by the Institute for Justice. In 2014, deposits totaled $4.4 billion, the highest amount in history.

Similarly, the Treasury Department’s Forfeiture Fund took in more than $270 million in 2004. Seized cash rose to $1.6 billion in 2013.

Last year, an investigative series by The Washington Post called “Stop and Seize” found that since 2001, local and state police had seized $2.5 billion in cash from 62,000 individuals without filing warrants or criminal charges. Those who chose to fight the seizures sometimes waited a year or more for the return of their money, the newspaper said.

The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents rank-and-file officers, lists civil forfeiture reform among nine bills or proposals it intends to block in the current Congress.

“Like any government program, there can be found instances of abuse, and the FOP supports measures to combat such abuses and to improve the integrity of the program,” FOP President Chuck Canterbury testified at the April 15 hearing.

Among those siding with police agencies is Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who argued that denying them a cut of seized cash “would be a huge detriment.”

Sessions, working with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was instrumental in the passage of 2000 reforms they said were intended to protect “innocent citizens.” (Those changes included the current standard of a “preponderance of evidence” before authorities may seize property, replacing simple “probable cause.”)

The Justice Department and other law enforcement officials call for compromise, the Institute for Justice’s Sheth notes, but allowing the practice to continue in some form actually would be the compromise.

‘When Is This Going to Change?’

“OK, we can retain civil forfeiture even though we probably shouldn’t—it is unconstitutional and un-American—but … law enforcement should not benefit directly from it financially,” she said. “And people should not be forced to prove their innocence rather than the government proving that they’re guilty.”

Jillian Lane, Paul’s Senate press secretary, said the Paul-Walberg measure—one of a slate of criminal justice reforms proposed by the senator—would not have allowed the IRS to seize McLellan’s life savings.

“It’s not fair to the American people who work for a living,” McLellan told The Daily Signal, “that one day [the government] can knock on the door and say, ‘We took your money.’ ”

>>> After Government Seized His Motel, Owner Reflects on His Fight

Jason Snead, a research associate in Heritage’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, told The Daily Signal that law enforcement’s legitimate concerns can be addressed.

“Congress should be prepared to adequately finance federal law enforcement agencies,” said Snead, who also has researched and written on the issue. “The same can be said of states and their agencies.”

And proposed reforms, he said, “will not interfere with legitimate cases targeting real criminals and their illicit activities.”

Snead noted that lawmakers in Minnesota, New Mexico, Montana and Washington, D.C., have reformed forfeiture statutes to provide greater legal protections for citizens.  More than 20 other state legislatures are considering reform proposals.

“Federal reforms will certainly have the broadest impact, but there is need for reform at both the state and federal levels,” he said. “After all, even the best federal reforms will not stop a local cop or sheriff from abusing state forfeiture laws.”

In an email, Walberg pronounced himself  “optimistic that the broad bipartisan coalition calling for reform will be impossible to ignore.”

It can’t be soon enough for Lyndon McLellan.

“When is this going to change?”  the store owner asked in the interview with The Daily Signal. “Who has to change it? It’s Congress. It needs to happen.”

Daily Signal reporter Melissa Quinn contributed to this report.

 

Obama’s Latest Environmental Action: A New Water Rule - The Daily Signal

Obama’s Latest Environmental Action: A New Water Rule

Madaline Donnelly / Genevieve Wood / Ken McIntyre / Alex Anderson /

In a controversial use of executive power, the Obama administration has finalized a set of environmental regulations expanding its authority over the nation’s waterways.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers announced the Clean Water Rule, intended to protect the nation’s streams and wetlands from “pollution and degradation.”

In a press release, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the finalization of the rule is a historic step in protecting the nation’s water resources.

Jo-Ellen Darcy of US Army & I sign Clean Water Rule, better protecting our nation's upstream waters. #Cleanhttps://t.co/Y9c6lJIFHJ

— Gina McCarthy (@GinaEPA) May 27, 2015

“Protecting our water sources is a critical component of adapting to climate change impacts.” McCarthy stated in the press release. “Which is why EPA and the Army have finalized the Clean Water Rule to protect important waters, so we can strengthen our economy and provide certainty to American businesses.”

Daren Bakst, research fellow in agricultural policy at The Heritage Foundation, believes the finalized rule is ambiguous, and will inadvertently affect property owners, making it difficult for many to use their land.

“This final rule does not provide clarity,” Bakst said. “Instead, it creates more confusion. It doesn’t have to be confusing. It is because agencies have consistently stretched the definition of ‘the waters of the United States.’ There are ways to come up with very clear definitions, so people can understand how to comply with the law.”

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, released a statement expressing the concerns of American farmers over the finalized rule.

“The process used to produce this rule was flawed,” Stallman said in the release. “The EPA’s proposal transgressed clear legal boundaries set for it by Congress and the courts and dealt more with regulating land use than protecting our nation’s valuable water resources.”

However, supporters of the administration’s decision say the rule would restore protection to 60 percent of America’s streams and 20 million acres of wetlands.

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, praised the finalized rule.

“We applaud President Obama for taking these common sense steps to ensure our waterways stay clean,” Pica said in a press release.

#CleanWaterRules is a commonsense way to #ProtectCleanWater. Thank you @POTUS, @EPA for your leadership #ThanksObama pic.twitter.com/9DDYhFTEJG

— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) May 27, 2015

Earlier this month the House of Representatives approved a bill that would block the rule from being implemented.

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., co-sponsored a bipartisan piece of legislation, along with 30 other senators, that would direct the Obama administration to “set clear limits on federal regulation of water” and “require consultation with states.”

.@EPA imposing this sweeping new waters rule is another massive overreach by Washington. http://t.co/PnoVHnVg26 #wotus

— David Perdue (@sendavidperdue) May 27, 2015

The rule is set to take effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

‘Free Range’ Parents Not Charged for Letting Their Kids Walk Home Alone - The Daily Signal

‘Free Range’ Parents Not Charged for Letting Their Kids Walk Home Alone

Madaline Donnelly / Genevieve Wood / Ken McIntyre / Alex Anderson / Kate Scanlon /

Child Protective Services has ruled out neglect charges in one of two investigations into Maryland’s “free range” parents, according to the Associated Press.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, the parents of Dvora, 6, and Rafi, 10, practice what they call a “free range” parenting style in which their children are given a great deal of independence.

The Meitivs were under investigation for allowing their children to walk home from a park unsupervised in December. This case has now been dismissed.

The Daily Signal previously reported that the Meitiv children were picked up by police last month after a caller reported seeing unattended children walking in the neighborhood. The results of this investigation are still pending.

“This ruling confirms that we never exposed our children to a ‘substantial risk of harm,’” Danielle Meitiv said in a statement. “Although we welcome the decision, we are concerned that CPS’s misguided policy remains intact. We fear that our family and other Maryland families will be subject to further investigations and frightening police detentions simply because our children have been taught how to walk safely in their neighborhood, including to and from school and local parks.”

The Meitiv’s lawyer, Matthew Dowd, said in a statement that he is “very pleased” the Meitivs have been “vindicated.”

“The county officials’ actions were a completely unnecessary overreach into the personal lives of the Meitivs,” Dowd said. “Unfortunately, the children and their parents have suffered from the actions of county officials. CPS’s investigations and actions have been premised on a fundamental misapplication of the law and violate the constitutional rights of parents to raise their children as they see best.”

Give Indian Prime Minister a C for His First Year in Office - The Daily Signal

Give Indian Prime Minister a C for His First Year in Office

Madaline Donnelly / Genevieve Wood / Ken McIntyre / Alex Anderson / Kate Scanlon / William T. Wilson /

This week marks the end of Narendra Modi’s first year as prime minister of India.

Elected with an unprecedented majority in Parliament, Indians had high expectations his economic reforms would resuscitate India’s economy and investment environment.

In democracies, the first year of an administration is typically when the most dramatic political and economic reforms are initiated. Ronald Reagan initiated his landmark tax cuts, and Margaret Thatcher defeated the U.K.’s striking coal miners and broke the back of organized labor during their first years in office.

As a former university professor accustomed to assigning grades this time of year, I’d have to assign the Modi government a C for its first year in office. Here are some of the highlights and shortfalls of his first year:

Victories:

Shortcomings:  

Given its majority in Parliament and general sense of optimism throughout the country, the current government could have done much more in its first year. Let’s hope the next year brings more positive surprises.

There’s Good and Bad in Senate’s Version of Defense Authorization Bill - The Daily Signal

There’s Good and Bad in Senate’s Version of Defense Authorization Bill

Madaline Donnelly / Genevieve Wood / Ken McIntyre / Alex Anderson / Kate Scanlon / William T. Wilson / Justin Johnson /

As early as next week, the full Senate could take up legislation to establish the defense budget for the 2016 fiscal year.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has finished its work, approving a 900-page bill on May 14 and releasing its text last week.

The National Defense Authorization Act likely will be amended on the Senate floor as Congress works to meet the challenges of the significant national security threats the United States faces and the dangerously weak security policy of the Obama administration.

But an evaluation of the current legislation includes some significant highlights and some places where Congress could do better.

The good:

The bad:

National security is neither cheap nor easy. But, as our Constitution says, it is vital to “provide for the common defense.” Congress must prioritize national security and produce legislation that makes our nation safer and stronger. For more information about what Congress should be doing in the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, read “10 Objectives for the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.”

What the Defense Department Learned From the Ebola Crisis - The Daily Signal

What the Defense Department Learned From the Ebola Crisis

Madaline Donnelly / Genevieve Wood / Ken McIntyre / Alex Anderson / Kate Scanlon / William T. Wilson / Justin Johnson / Leah Jessen /

For most Americans, last year’s Ebola outbreak was a public health concern and cause for a debate over infectious disease practices, safety and travel.

For West Africans, it was a real-life crisis with deaths in the thousands and desperate efforts to keep it from spreading.

But for those tasked with developing the response for it here and abroad, it was an education not only in disease fighting but in coalition building and knowledge gathering. That was the main takeaway from a panel discussion on Ebola and the American response Tuesday at The Heritage Foundation.

“Ebola is not gone today,” said Carmen J. Spencer, joint program executive officer for chemical and biological defense for the U.S. Army. “It is dormant today, and it will come back. But it will morph. It will be something different every time we see it. When a crisis hits that’s the worst time to exchange business cards.”

Panel members pointed out that agencies that never before had worked together joined forces to identify the cause of the disease, provide diagnostic tools, treat and transport the infected and prevent further infection. And they left with a commitment to strengthen the relationships that helped arrest the Ebola threat and to think about how those relationships might be used to head off public health crises in the future.

“As we develop solutions in the name of biodefense we have to be thinking about how else can those be used and how else should those be used,” said Col. Neal E. Woollen, director of biosecurity and Ebola response coordinator for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. “An infectious disease outbreak is a classic example of how something that is being developed for a relatively specific intent and purpose has tremendous ability to be cross leveraged for other purposes.”

Multiagency cooperation—past and, especially, future—emerged as a theme of the panel. Spencer talked of the partnerships organizations and officials formed and said the biggest lesson learned from the outbreak was, “No one agency within the federal government has all the answers. When it comes to something like a biological incident like Ebola, there are no borders. It’s not a DoD issue, it’s a public health issue.”

Col. Russell Coleman’s role was to lead an organization dedicated to working with outside medical firms to develop countermeasures. Medicine is one area that easily could have slipped into a silo, operating on its own with limited information from other stakeholders. But Coleman said it didn’t happen that way and that innovation, collaboration and cooperation were keys to testing and implementing countermeasures.

“The story we’re telling is we’ve really come a long way,” Coleman said.

The goals and actions the panelists described fit neatly with those set out in a report from The Heritage Foundation on the Ebola response. The Heritage report, described by Cully Stimson, senior legal fellow at the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy and moderator of the panel, laid out four goals for future responses:

  1. Prioritize emergency preparedness and planning.
  2. Empower officials to coordinate domestic response efforts and communicate with the American public.
  3. Improve medical training and increase access to effective and sustainable health care for West African countries.
  4. Strengthen lines of authority and narrow the priorities of the World Health Organization to focus on a limited number of core responsibilities.

The panelists all seemed confident America would be better prepared the next time around, even if those charged with preparing us won’t be the star attractions at many social gatherings.

“When you tell folks that your job in life is preparing the armed forces for chemical and biology and radiological events,” Spencer said, “you’re not the most popular guy at cocktail parties.”

We’re Paying More Than Ever for Government to Regulate Us - The Daily Signal

We’re Paying More Than Ever for Government to Regulate Us

Madaline Donnelly / Genevieve Wood / Ken McIntyre / Alex Anderson / Kate Scanlon / William T. Wilson / Justin Johnson / Leah Jessen / James Quarles /

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., claims Americans are suffering from Stockholm syndrome, a condition in which hostages begin to have misplaced positive feelings toward their captors. The captors in this case are the federal regulators who impose some 2,400 new regulations each year, and the senator suggests Americans are not sufficiently wary of their resulting ill effects.

According to a recent report by economists Susan Dudley and Melinda Warren, the cost to taxpayers of writing and enforcing all this red tape is expected to top $62 billion in 2015, about 4.3 percent above 2014 levels. On top of this, the president has asked for a further increase of 5.3 percent for regulatory agencies in 2016. Since 2000, the budgets for these agencies have increased more than 75 percent. This is in addition to the broader economic costs of red tape.

The joint report finds total staff levels within regulatory agencies has increased almost every year since 2001 and now tops 280,000.

“Regulators Budget,” published by the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center and the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy at Washington University in St. Louis, has tracked the total staffing and spending of federal regulatory agencies since 1977. The growth in spending on regulatory agencies is consistent with the growing level of new major regulations reported by The Heritage Foundation and the Government Accountability Office.

As the graph below demonstrates, as annual regulatory outlays grew between 2001 and 2014, the number of new major rules—those expected to cost $100 million or more—also tended to increase. Other guides for tracking regulation—the number of pages in the Federal Register and agency estimates of the cost of regulations—also have grown along with the regulatory outlays and the number of new major regulations during the past two administrations.

150527_RegulatoryActivity

All signs point to more expensive regulations in the future, with more rules to be written. Growth is generally a goal of companies in the private sector, but federal regulators also aim to grow their power and influence over the private sector. Unlike growth in private-sector companies, which leads to the development of innovative products or services and the creation of new jobs, the growth of regulatory agencies often leads only to more red tape.

If the American workforce could be set free of the unnecessary and costly regulation that invades everyday life, then economic growth—the good growth we want in the private sector—would be unleashed. First, though, we need to realize we are captive to regulators and ensure we don’t prove Johnson correct.

Why Is the Share of Prime-Age People Working Full Time Still So Low? - The Daily Signal

Why Is the Share of Prime-Age People Working Full Time Still So Low?

Madaline Donnelly / Genevieve Wood / Ken McIntyre / Alex Anderson / Kate Scanlon / William T. Wilson / Justin Johnson / Leah Jessen / James Quarles / Patrick Tyrrell /

DS-prime-age-full-time

In 2009, the percentage of prime working-age U.S. residents who work 35 hours or more per week plunged to a 24-year low. Six years later, it remains five percentage points below its pre-recession level. So today, even though there are 1.3 million more people in the 25-54 age group than in 2007, there are 4.7 million fewer working full time.

As previously reported, many former workers have stopped even applying for jobs. Job openings have risen substantially since the recession, but the labor force of prime-age workers has gone in the other direction.

Many workers have found they face high marginal tax rates and lose valuable means-tested welfare benefits if they return to work. Many have concluded they value their time more than the money that would come from working, and others have found their skills have atrophied or fallen out of demand.

If receiving government welfare benefits was a job, it would not be a good one. The opportunity for promotion and advancement jobs have does not exist for non-working welfare recipients. This restricts many to a life of dependence on the government without moving toward a goal of self-reliance. We need to clear the red tape that prevents many employers from hiring today and to reform welfare so it again makes more sense to work than to accept this non-working government “job.”