The Wire

  • Trump’s border wall prototype visit ‘a ridiculous waste of time’ — Ann Coulter

    Conservative firebrand Ann Coulter appeared on a Los Angeles radio program and ridiculed the president’s recent inspection of border wall prototypes, calling the photo-op “a ridiculous waste of time.”

  • VIDEO: FBI search for $55 million in lost Civil War gold buried in Pennsylvania — NBC Nightly News

    A story that $55 million in Union gold was lost during the Civil War has long been dismissed as a myth — but this week, a team of FBI agents joined the search in rural Pennsylvania.

  • Mississippi Is Now in Play for Democrats — Weekly Standard

    “But McDaniel’s candidacy could create problems for Republicans. Mississippi’s special election rules are a little wonky: All of the candidates will run in a nonpartisan primary in November. If no candidate gets above 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates advance to a run-off election. Mississippi is flush with Republicans: There are qualified statewide office holders, former statewide office holders, state legislators, and more who could credibly run. If Gov. Phil Bryant’s appointee to the seat (he gets to appoint a temporary replacement for Cochran who will likely run) fails to keep other candidates out of the race, the non-McDaniel Republicans could split the vote while McDaniel keeps enough of his core constituents to make it to the run-off.”

    “If Democrats manage to take advantage of the highly Democratic national environment, get a strong candidate into the run-off, capitalize on McDaniel’s weaknesses, grab some Republican votes, and maintain a turnout advantage, they could take the seat.”

    — Excerpt from the Weekly Standard.

2 years ago

Shelby has quietly become the single biggest thorn in Obama’s side; here’s how

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)

The end of the year is typically a time when people put aside their differences and come together to celebrate the holidays. The same could be said of the U.S. Senate, where presidential nominees whose confirmations have been held up for one reason or another are finally allowed to pass.

But as Politico notes, “this is not a typical year.”

“Nineteen potential judges, a half-dozen ambassadors, a terrorism financing specialist and two high-ranking State Department nominees are awaiting confirmation votes on the Senate floor, a backlog that has this GOP-led Senate on track for the lowest number of confirmations in 30 years,” writes Politico’s Burgess Everett. “The Senate Banking Committee hasn’t moved on a single nominee all year.”

The Banking Committee is chaired by Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), whose refusal to budge on over a dozen nominees has dealt a blow to numerous Obama administration priorities.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has acquiesced and allowed several judicial nominees and ambassadors to be confirmed, Shelby has stubbornly held out.

Other senators are also holding up nominees. Sen. Marco Rubio is blocking President Obama’s choice for ambassador to Mexico because of her role in normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is blocking the confirmation of the president’s nominee to be the State Department’s top attorney, just to name a couple.

But no senator has been quite as unyielding in their opposition to Obama’s nominees as Shelby.

Politico explains:

(M)ore than a dozen nominees (are) mired in the Senate Banking Committee, which has the dubious distinction of being the sole Senate panel that has not cleared a single (Obama) administration nomination this year.

“There are substantive complaints about none of them. There is opposition based on their history, record, qualifications to none of them. It’s all about Obama,” said Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, the top Democrat on the Banking Committee. “And because they don’t like the Iran nuclear agreement, we shouldn’t confirm somebody who will make us safer?”

A frustrated Brown took to the Senate floor Wednesday to force a confirmation vote on… a host of other nominees stuck in his committee. The panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, swiftly objected to each of Brown’s attempts.

“That’s a policy decision,” Shelby said.

Among the nominees Shelby is blocking is Patricia Loui-Schmicker, who the president nominated for a second term on the Export-Import Bank’s Board of Directors.

The Ex-Im Bank, as it is known, was originally chartered by progressive icon Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. It was a “federal government corporation” that provides taxpayer-backed loans to foreign entities who want to buy American-made goods, but cannot secure credit in the private sector because of the risks. The bank’s charter mandates at least 20 percent its outlays benefit small businesses, but that rule has been frequently violated over the years.

In 2013, 76 percent of the bank’s spending went to its top ten beneficiaries. That year Boeing, the largest beneficiary of the bank for several years, received $8.3 billion in aid from the guaranteed loans taken out by the purchasers of their exports.

In spite of an intense lobbying effort by big business groups, President Obama and Republican congressional Leadership, the bank’s charter expired after Congress did not renew it by the June 30, 2015 deadline.

“After years of efforts to reform the Ex-Im Bank, it has become clear to me that its problems are beyond repair and that the Bank’s expiration is in the best interest of American taxpayers,” Shelby told Yellowhammer at the time. “Nearly 99% of all American exports are financed without the Ex-Im Bank, which demonstrates that subsidies are more about corporate welfare than advancing our economy.”

But a coalition of Republicans and Democrats ultimately managed to resurrect the bank by reauthorizing it in this year’s Transportation Bill.

However, as Diana Katz of the Heritage Foundation explains, the Ex-Im bank cannot issue any loans over $10 million without direct action by its board of directors. And since Senator Shelby is holding up the confirmation of Mrs. Loui-Schmicker, the board does not have the required minimum of three active members to take action on, well, anything.

“Checks and balances are a wonderful feature of our system of governance,” said Katz. “There’s no shame in using allowable procedures to check the crony impulses of Congress. No Ex-Im subsidies is the best policy, but limits on Ex-Im subsidies is the next best thing.”

Shelby’s efforts garnered high praise from Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham, whose organization has been among the most vocal opponents of the Ex-Im Bank’s “cronyism.”

Holding up nominees is often used as leverage to get concessions from the other side of the aisle.

Shelby has often indicated he would like to roll back Dodd-Frank, the sweeping — many conservatives would say onerous — financial regulatory reform package passed by Democrats in response to the so-called “Great Recession.” He has also placed himself at the center of housing finance reform, an issue that doesn’t grab headlines but is incredibly important for the U.S. economy. Close to 100 percent of the U.S. mortgage market is currently backed by the federal government. A bipartisan group on the Senate Banking Committee has been trying to reform the government’s role in the market, but many conservatives don’t believe their efforts go nearly far enough and leave the government no less involved than they were prior to the 2008 crash.

By holding up confirmations, Shelby could be creating the leverage needed to ultimately achieve those policy goals, but in the meantime, he’s ripping President Obama’s Christmas nominee wish list to shreds.

2 years ago

U.S. House approves $325 billion in highway funding, raises ‘corporate welfare’ bank from the dead

c/a Flikr user Ken Hurd
c/a Flikr user Ken Hurd

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The U.S. House of Representative voted Thursday to approve a bipartisan bill that reauthorizes the Highway Trust Fund and the Export Import Bank.

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 includes a six-year transportation funding bill—the first long-term bill passed in several years. The bill seeks to improve the nation’s infrastructure through reforming transportation programs, authorizing $325 billion to fund roads, bridges and other infrastructure needs, while deferring much of the planning and decision making to state and local governments.

Representative Martha Roby (R-AL) said that this bill is important because roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure make up the backbone of commerce. Furthermore, the open process for the bill allowed for debate, which Roby believes allowed legislators an opportunity to give constructive feedback on the bill.

“It’s important for the Congress to do its job and that is to fund federal infrastructure. This is our responsibility. I believe because of the open process that has been put in place – more than 100 amendments made in order – that, when we get to the final product, it will be something that conservative Republicans can vote for,” Roby said.

Several Republican representatives have expressed their approval of the passage of the bill. Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) said that the passage of the bill was “very good news for the I-10 bridge project and other major road projects in Southwest Alabama.”

Rep. Terri Sewell said that the passage of The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act, also called the DRIVE Act, was a step in the right direction.

“By making smart, strategic investments in our aging infrastructure, Congress will create more good-paying jobs for Americans and boost commerce,” Sewell explained. “While this bill is not perfect, today’s vote for the DRIVE Act was certainly a step in the right direction towards providing critical investments in infrastructure maintenance and development.”

The bill also includes an amendment reauthorizing the controversial Export Import Bank. The Ex-Im Bank finances exports for American companies that would be too risky for traditional lenders by making guaranteed loans to the foreign purchasers of those exports. While the bank’s charter mandates at least 20 percent its outlays benefit small businesses, that rule has been frequently violated.

Several legislators, including Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), believe that it’s time to put an end to the controversial Ex-Im Bank.

“After years of efforts to reform the Ex-Im Bank, it has become clear to me that its problems are beyond repair and that the Bank’s expiration is in the best interest of American taxpayers,” Sen. Shelby told Yellowhammer. “Nearly 99% of all American exports are financed without the Ex-Im Bank, which demonstrates that subsidies are more about corporate welfare than advancing our economy.”

The bank has received vocal support from many business groups, but some conservative organizations, including The Heritage Foundation’s political arm Heritage Action, have waged a campaign against it, calling it the epitome of corporate welfare. Nick Barden, Education Coordinator for Heritage Action, said that the “open process” wasn’t actually as open as some are claiming.

“This process, praised by many Republicans for its openness, was not a full-blown open amendment process. The Rules Committee still exercised control over which amendments would be allowed on the floor, even though they allowed a greater number than they have in recent history. All of the conservative amendments considered still failed on the floor,” said Barden.

“It is possible that Republicans will vote for the bill because the process is ‘a step in the right direction.’ That may or may not be the case, but it is not worth the overwhelmingly bad policy embraced by this bill,” Barden said.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has refused to take up a stand alone bill reviving the bank, he appears willing to allow a vote on it as an amendment to the transportation bill.

A conference committee between the House and Senate is expected to be called, with final votes on the bill being held in the next few weeks.

2 years ago

Shelby’s voting record currently ranked third most conservative in U.S. Senate

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)

WASINGTON, D.C. — Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) is maintaining the third most conservative Senate voting record during the current session of Congress, according to the latest Heritage Action scorecard. Shelby’s score is an eye-popping 99 percent, coming in just behind the Senate’s most outspoken conservative duo, Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), who both earned a rare 100 percent conservative voting record.

Heritage Action is the grassroots advocacy arm of The Heritage Foundation, Washington’s preeminent conservative think tank, which is currently led by former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint.

Shelby told Yellowhammer Tuesday evening that he is proud of his score and believes it is reflective of the kind of representation he’s providing his constituents.

“The people of Alabama deserve for their leaders in Washington to stand up for conservative principles and push back against liberal policies that advance the growing role of government in their lives,” he said. “I remain committed to fighting for a smaller, more effective government and believe that my voting record clearly reflects those efforts.”

Here’s how Heritage Action describes their scorecard and the process they use for tallying their ratings:

The Heritage Action Scorecard measures votes, co-sponsorships, and other legislative activity to show how conservative Members of Congress are.

Identify Issues

Heritage Action identifies upcoming legislative fights and the Heritage Foundation outlines the conservative policy positions. Key votes encompass the full spectrum of conservatism, policies large and small.

Notify Members of Congress

As we announce Key votes, the Heritage Action team alerts Members of Congress, informs conservative activists across the country, and reaches out to the media to ensure reporters cover our position.

Update Scores

We update the scorecard weekly when Congress is in session, ensuring the scores reflect the latest activity. Updated scores help conservatives hold their Members of Congress accountable.

Shelby’s score is particularly noteworthy considering the average Senate Republican currently maintains a 61 percent conservative voting score.

Shelby’s Alabama colleague, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is also maintaining a staunchly conservative rating of 87 percent on the scorecard. They each have lifetime scores of 82 percent and 83 percent, respectively, which is perhaps an indication of just have difficult it can be to achieve a score in the 90s.

Some notable votes that contributed to Shelby’s high score during the current session include:

— Voting against a Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill that funded President Obama’s “executive amnesty;”
— Voting against confirmed Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee for attorney general;
— Leading the conservative revolt against reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank;
— Voting against funding for Planned Parenthood.

Shelby is up for re-election in 2016, but does not currently face a challenger.

Here are the latest scores for Alabama’s full delegation:

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL5): 99 percent
Sen. Richard Shelby: 99 percent
Rep. Gary Palmer(R-AL6): 96 percent
Sen. Jeff Sessions: 87 percent
Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL1): 86 percent
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL3): 74 percent
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL4): 71 percent
Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2): 67 percent
Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL7): 13 percent

3 years ago

Study: Employees in right to work states like Alabama earn just as much

Mercedes-Benz's plant in Vance, Ala. (Photo: Carol M. Highsmith)
Mercedes-Benz’s plant in Vance, Ala. (Photo: Carol M. Highsmith)

WASHINGTON — A recent study by the Heritage Foundation disputes the assertion that employees in right to work states such as Alabama are compensated at a lower rate that those in non-right to work states.

In right to work (RTW) states, businesses and industries can’t require union membership as a condition of employment. 25 states currently have RTW laws.

RTW laws

A paper published in April by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found a 3 percent average difference in worker compensation between RTW and non-RTW states, but didn’t adequately take cost-of-living into consideration according to James Sherk, a research fellow in labor economics at The Heritage Foundation and author of the Foundation’s report.

In the Heritage paper, Sherk replicated the research of the EPI and found it to be “fundamentally flawed” because it only partially controlled for cost-of-living differences among states. Once Sherk corrected for that consideration, the disparity disappeared completely.

“Policymakers have no economic justification for forcing workers to pay union dues,” Sherk wrote. “Workers who want to unionize have the right to do so. But the government should not force workers who see little benefit from union representation to purchase it.”

Unions were once widely viewed as a positive voice for workers who did not have the ability to stand up for themselves. But as workplaces became safer and wages more fair, unions started shifting from workplace representation to heavy political involvement to accomplish their goals. At only 7% of the private workforce, unions are now a shadow of their former selves, although they remain a powerful bloc in the Democratic Party.

Between the Mercedes, Honda, and Hyundai plants, Alabama has become a strong player in automotive manufacturing and the state’s RTW laws are often credited with having played a major part in that. As president and founder of Union Conservatives, Terry Bowman, stressed during a visit to Birmingham last year that UAW representation for Alabama’s auto manufacturers would not only be a blow to current jobs, but also to the state’s ability to attract new companies.

Earlier this year, an estimate by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) found that the non-unionized Daimler Automotive Group employees at Alabama’s Mercedes plant in Vance, near Tuscaloosa, make more per hour than any other auto workers in the country.

CAR compiled estimates of the hourly labor costs, including wages, benefits, and legacy costs at each of the major U.S. automakers, and found Alabama’s Mercedes workers average $65 per hour, including benefits, compared to the $58 per hour at GM, $57 per hour at Ford, and $48 per hour at Fiat Chrysler, all of which are highly-unionized.

Several large companies have revealed Alabama’s status as a RTW state was a significant contributing factor to their decision to locate in the Yellowhammer State.

“That’s probably the second leading attractive part of being in the state of Alabama — a right-to-work state,” said Austal USA President Craig Perciavalle in an interview with Yellowhammer last year. “At the end of the day, we focus on treating our employees right and creating a very good work environment for them.”

3 years ago

Alabama gets an ‘F’ for its civil asset forfeiture laws


MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A recent study by FreedomWorks grades the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws, and the Yellowhammer State doesn’t score so well.

First, what’s civil asset forfeiture? According to the study, it “is an obscure area of the law that allows the government to take your property without convicting, or even charging you with a crime.”

In other words, if you go to your bank, withdraw a large amount of cash from your savings account, and get pulled over with the cash, law enforcement can keep that money until you prove that you didn’t obtain it illegally.

This is something that has happened in Alabama. According to the Heritage Foundation, Ming Tong Liu, a Chinese-born American from Newnan, Georgia, was stopped on I-10 in Alabama for driving 10 miles per hour over the speed limit while heading to Louisiana to buy the Hong Kong Chinese restaurant in Lake Charles for himself and his investors (two daughters and another relative). He was detained for nearly two hours, and the authorities found and seized $75,195. He got back his money 10 months later but only after spending thousands of dollars on a lawyer and losing out on the restaurant deal.

Originally established so that law enforcement could seize funds suspected to be obtained illegally, the abuse of civil asset forfeiture by both federal and local agencies has become more high profile in recent years, thanks in large part to public interest law firm the Institute for Justice.

The study found that federal forfeiture revenue has increased from under $95 million in 1986 to over $1 billion in 2008 and subsequent year.

Now, even pop culture icons like Jon Stewart and John Oliver have begun talking about it.

So why did Alabama earn an F?

The standard of proof is extremely low; the government must only make a prima facie case to forfeit property. The property owner bears the burden to prove his innocence to get his property back, unless the forfeited property was real property, then the burden is on the government to prove the owner was not innocent. Law enforcement agencies keep 100% of forfeiture funds, and there are no collecting or reporting requirements

In order to improve the state’s score, FreedomWorks recommends the following policy changes:

1. An individual should actually be convicted of a crime before the government can seize any property.
2. Reforms should address due process concerns in two ways. First, the burden of proof that the property was used in connection with a crime should all on the government. Second, the standard of proof should be beyond a reasonable doubt or clear and convincing.
3. Proceeds from seized property should be placed in neutral accounts, such as a state’s general fund, not the police budget. This would adjust the incentives driving the use of this practice.
4. Reforms should prohibit state and local law enforcement from participating in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program as a way of bypassing state reforms.

3 years ago

Could state income tax hurt Alabama’s effort to land a top-tier basketball coach?

Wichita State head basketball coach Gregg Marshall (photo captured from video)
Wichita State head basketball coach Gregg Marshall (photo captured from video)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The University of Alabama’s Athletics Department has made it no secret that they have their eye set on one man in particular to lead the Bama Basketball team into a new era—current Wichita State Shockers head coach Gregg Marshall. But could the lower tax rates in Texas, whose team is also reportedly looking at Marshall to be their next coach draw him away from Sweet Home Alabama?

Alabama Athletic Director Bill Battle has hinted that he’s willing to pay Gregg Marshall upwards of $4 million a year to lure him away from the relatively small Kansas school. Another name in the mix, Shaka Smart is reportedly also being considered by both Alabama and Texas. There are no reports for what kind of offer Texas may have on the table for Marshall or Smart, but the country’s second most populous and second largest state may already have a leg up because they can offer them something Alabama can’t—no state income tax.

In Alabama the state income tax tops out at 5 percent. While this is smaller than the income tax in, say, New York (12 percent) it is infinitely larger than the 0 percent charged by the Texas state government.

And more taxes could be on their way if Governor Bentley’s proposals are approved by the state legislature.

Five percent of $4 million is $250,000 a year that could be due to the state government. While deductions will lower that number some, it still means that Alabama’s next basketball coach could be paying more in taxes every year than most people in the state make in several.

So, maybe Gregg Marshall or whoever UA hires next will value the job over the extra money he’d be able to keep by accepting a job in a tax-free state (Tennessee is also looking for a new coach, and they don’t tax wages either), but there are undoubtedly many businesses who take a look at Alabama’s tax burden compared to its neighbors and decide to relocate in Georgia, Florida, or Texas instead.

While UA’s head basketball coach may be the highest-profile job listed in the state right now, it certainly isn’t the only employment opportunity in Alabama.

Just last week the Heritage Foundation’s chief economist Stephen Moore said Alabama should get rid of its income tax to become a more competitive state for industry.

“The goal of Alabama should be to be more like Texas, not to be more like New York, where taxes keep going up year after year, and jobs and businesses keep leaving,” Moore quipped.

3 years ago

Heritage Economist: Bentley should abolish state income tax, not push tax hikes

(Video Above: Heritage Foundation Chief Economist Steve Moore discusses Gov. Bentley tax hike proposal)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In video for the Alabama Policy Institute (API), Heritage Foundation Chief Economist Steve Moore says Governor Bentley’s proposed tax increases are the wrong way to increase revenue for the state, and in fact will only serve to drive businesses and workers—the real sources of growth—away from the state.

“When states raise their taxes, especially when they raise their tax rates, that it actually leads to jobs leaving the state, it leads to higher unemployment, it leads to income decline in the state,” Moore said. “The problem with the Alabama budget right now is that the state is not growing fast enough, not enough jobs are being created. If you raise taxes on the business creators and on the workers, and on the investors, you’re going to get less businesses and you’re going to get less workers, and less investors. Under that kind of circumstance, you’re actually going to have higher unemployment, so I don’t get the logic behind raising taxes to try to balance the budget.”

Instead Moore recommends a structurally lower tax system, including making Alabama the 10th state to abolish the state income tax.

“The goal of Alabama should be to be more like Texas, not to be more like New York, where taxes keep going up year after year, and jobs and businesses keep leaving,” Moore quipped.

API Vice President Katherine Robertson also expressed concerns on Tuesday that the Governor’s proposed tax increases are not “dead on arrival” in the legislature, as was previously hoped.

“As the Alabama Legislature considers various proposals for closing the budget gap in our state General Fund, API continues to push for reforms to the very programs that are causing repeated budget shortfalls as an alternative to raising taxes,” Robertson said.

API is publishing two new research papers in the coming weeks, focusing on cost-saving reforms the legislature can consider in place of the Governor’s tax increases.

“Advertising higher taxes as the only option for closing the budget gap without cutting government services presents a false choice,” said API’s press release accompanying the video. “Rather, the current budget crisis should serve as an impetus for substantive reforms that tackle the real drivers behind the shortfall and will provide the state financial stability for the long-term. Alabama’s lawmakers should continue on in this worthy pursuit and stay true to their campaign promises.”

Pieces of Governor Bentley’s proposed $541 million tax increase have Republican sponsors in the legislature, but none of the tax hikes have been brought before a committee to this point. The legislature is expected to begin working on the budget next week, when they return from Spring Break.

3 years ago

Heritage Foundation scholar: Alabama conservatives should back charter schools

YH School Choice

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama State Legislature is discussing and debating a law that would allow charter schools to be established in the state for the first time, but some interesting infighting among various conservative groups has brought up the question: what is the conservative position on school choice?

School choice is one of those curious topics that brings together a coalition of parents, teachers, politicians, and pundits from all parts of the political spectrum. Similarly, it has been a lightning rod for criticism from groups on both the left and the right.

In Alabama, some Tea Party groups have formed an unusual alliance with the Alabama Education Association (AEA) and other groups defending the status quo in public education to speak against the Charter Schools bill during the healthy debate surrounding this year’s push.

Between fears of undue influence from outside organizations and the presence of the Common Core State Standards, massive amounts of conflicting information—and misinformation—have flown freely in the last few months.

Tuesday, Yellowhammer spoke with Lindsey Burke, the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at the Heritage Foundation—long considered the benchmark for conservative policy—about school choice, and charter schools in particular, asking her to help us understand if some of the fears are justified, and if the promises of charter schools are what they’re cracked up to be by their proponents.

“Look, we as conservatives, one of our primary goals in reforming education policy must be to break government monopoly on education,” Ms. Burke said. “The way that you do that is through school choice options.”

While “school choice” and “charter schools” are often used as catch-all terms, Burke warned they shouldn’t be considered as a monolith.

According to Burke, a former teacher who now studies education policy, one of the biggest advantages given by school choice is that all-important second word, choice.

“The ability to customize and tailor your child’s education is something that is progressing in a way that is incredibly exciting” Burke said. “Not only should that be the goal of conservatives, I think that should be the goal of anyone who is interested in moving toward a system that is student centered and is responsive to the needs of those individuals, and not just responsive to what state and federal policy makers think defines a good education.”

But what of the fears we’ve seen circulating on social media of influence from extremists, or a reduction of diversity in public schools?

Burke said confidently that such concerns are completely unfounded, adding that all schools—traditional public, private, charter, or otherwise—must adhere to Civil Rights Laws, and charter schools “can’t teach any sort of violent or aggressive behavior or curriculum or anything of that nature.”

Even more specifically, Alabama’s proposed law has a safeguard—the control a local school board has to approve or deny a charter school’s creation.

But would charter schools, as many members of the Democratic party have warned, lead to a more segregated public school system?

“Absolutely not,” Burke answered resolutely. “The evidence suggests the opposite is true. We see schools become more integrated as the result of access to school choice options, when kids who have historically only had access to the public schools, and haven’t had the means to choose another option, when they actually do have the means to choose something else, we see a wonderful amount of integration and access to options that meet their needs, better than the one-size-fits-all assignment by zip code public education system.”

While she does understand the need to compare apples to apples by using the same assessments in both charter and traditional public schools, Burke — an ardent opponent of Common Core State Standards — was adamant that the fact that Common Core-aligned tests would be used is less of an indictment on schools of choice, and more a problem with the intrusive nature of the standards themselves.

The bill was debated during a public hearing in the House Education Policy Committee Wednesday, after being passed out of the Senate with a few amendments the previous day.

Representative Terri Collins, the sponsor of the House version of the bill, began and ended the hearing with the same heart-felt appeal to her fellow committee members, and the hundred or so men and women filling the meeting space to standing-room-only capacity: While charters may not be a silver bullet, what we’re all here for is to improve education for Alabama’s children.

The committee will vote on the bill Thursday morning and will more than likely be voted on by the full House next week.

4 years ago

Premiums for young Alabamians spike under ObamaCare, elderly feel Medicare cuts

Data gleaned from and healthcare exchanges around the country show that buying individual health insurance is generally more expensive for young people now than it was before ObamaCare, including in Alabama where premiums have risen by an average of 31 percent for 27-year-olds.

The map below, which was created by The Heritage Foundation, shows the percentage increase in health insurance premiums for 27-year-olds in states around the country.

ObamaCare Costs for 27-year-olds

It’s hard to believe it, but a 31 percent increase might actually qualify as a “good deal” under ObamaCare. Many states around the country have experienced 70 percent, 80 percent, even 100 percent hikes. Alabama’s neighbor to the east, Georgia, has seen their premiums jump by an astounding 168 percent for 27-year-olds under the president’s healthcare law.

“ObamaCare says you can stay on your parents’ health insurance until you turn 26,” Amy Payne of the Heritage Foundation explained. “This chart looks at what happens after that — if you don’t have employer-sponsored insurance and you have to get insured through ObamaCare. If you’re trying to save for a car or house — or just paying rent to have your own place — seeing your premiums double is quite a blow.”

And it’s not only young people trying to work their way up the economic ladder who are feeling the pinch. Seniors, many of whom are on a fixed income, are being hit by ObamaCare’s $716 billion cut to Medicare.

“Despite the Obama administration’s recent walking back of Medicare Advantage cuts for this year, ObamaCare’s planned cuts to Medicare are moving forward,” said Payne. “This chart shows which parts of Medicare are affected.”

Medicare graph

“Instead of cutting waste, fraud, and abuse in the Medicare program, ObamaCare targets the amounts Medicare service providers are paid,” Payne continued. “These cuts have ripple effects on seniors. Doctors, nursing homes, and other providers who can’t afford to be part of Medicare any more will cut back or stop participating — and that means fewer options and less access to care for seniors.”

That realization makes it especially notable that AARP, the largest seniors advocacy organization in the country, has been one of the most vocal supporters of ObamaCare from the beginning to help get the law passed.

Emails released by a congressional committee show that the group worked closely with the Obama Administration from the beginning.

According to the Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel, “The emails overall show an AARP leadership… that from the start worked to pass ObamaCare, before crucial details pertaining to seniors had been addressed. [AARP leadership] was in constant contact with Mr. Obama’s top aides, in particular Nancy-Ann DeParle and Jim Messina.”
AARP ObamaCare
Multiple media outlets reported in 2009 that 60,000 AARP members abandoned the group in a single month due to the group’s support of the Affordable Care Act.

RELATED: AARP environmental push part of increasingly liberal agenda

That has led to the rise of AARP alternatives, including the 60 Plus Association, which established an Alabama chapter last year.

“AARP might be good at providing discounts on flowers and hotels, but it does a lousy job of representing America’s conservative seniors,” 60 Plus said in a release announcing the launch of their Alabama chapter. “Fortunately, seniors have another alternative in political discussions in Alabama, one that won’t abandon its conservative values or the real causes of seniors.”

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

4 years ago

You’re not going to be happy when you see where all your tax dollars are going


It’s pretty unreal when you see it.

Your 2013 tax dollars — which are due today — went primarily to pay for government benefits.

Major entitlements (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) gobbled up 49 percent, while more federal benefits took another 20 percent. These additional “income security” benefits include federal employee retirement and disability, unemployment benefits, and welfare programs such as food and housing assistance. Obamacare spending didn’t really kick in until 2014, so that will show up in next year’s breakdown.

See how this compares to last year’s breakdown: National defense has been cut, while the major entitlements picked up an even larger percentage.

Is this where you expect the government to spend most of your money?

Romina Boccia of The Heritage Foundation reminds us how we ended up in this situation:

Everything changed when the U.S economy crashed in 2008. Job losses and a drop in personal income led many more Americans to rely at least temporarily on government programs to make ends meet.

… But the worst is yet to come: The Congressional Budget Office projects that public debt will reach an economy-crushing 100 percent in less than one generation. Unlike the unpredicted drop in U.S. fiscal health brought about by the recent recession, this time, structural problems are driving the decline.

Those “structural problems” Boccia mentioned are on display in the chart above. The federal budget is structured around entitlement programs—and they don’t leave room for much else. Here’s a sobering thought: “The federal government could cease all other operations, including its core constitutional duty to provide for the national defense, and would still end up in a fiscal hole within a generation.”

That’s right—we’re on track for all our tax money to go to Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid (including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Obamacare), and interest on the debt. Don’t forget the debt. Your 2013 tax dollars covered only 80 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government. The other 20 cents were borrowed from younger generations.

This is why Heritage advocates entitlement reforms—we need to free our economy from these weights dragging it down. And that doesn’t mean we leave beneficiaries high and dry.

Where would you like to see your federal tax dollars go? Let us know in the comments.


Did you give the government an interest-free loan from your paycheck this year? If you got a tax refund, you did. Heritage’s Rachel Greszler looked at the numbers: The average tax refund in 2013 was $2,755. That’s $230 per month that a family could have been using.

Amy Payne is Editor-at-Large of The Foundry, The Heritage Foundation’s blog. She writes and edits the “Morning Bell,” one of Washington’s most widely read and influential e-newsletters. Follow her on Twitter @AmyMPayne.

5 years ago

Heritage Action ranks voting records Alabama congressional delegation

Conservative grassroots advocacy organization Heritage Action for America has released their latest Congressional “scorecard” that ranks the conservative voting records of members of Congress. According to the Heritage Action website, “The Heritage Action Scorecard measures votes, co-sponsorships, and other legislative activity to show how conservative Members of Congress are.”

Overall, 26 members of the House or Senate received perfect scores from Heritage Action, including Alabama’s 5th Congressional District Representative, Mo Brooks. 113 members of congress — 112 Democrats and 1 Independent — received a score of 0%.

In the U.S. House, the average scores are 75% for Republicans and 6% for Democrats. On the Senate side the averages are 69% for Republicans and 5% for Democrats. The average score for Republicans in the Alabama delegation is 72.25%. Terri Sewell, Alabama’s lone Democrat, scored 17%.

Heritage Action is the sister organization of The Heritage Foundation, one of the country’s preeminent conservative think tanks. “We take the conservative policy visions outlined by our sister organization…and make them a reality,” Heritage Action says on their website. The Heritage Foundation boasts over 700,000 members nationally.

A former staffer for Governor Bentley, Elizabeth BeShears is now a regional coordinator for Heritage Action. “The Alabama delegation has an excellent opportunity to improve their scores, and the state of the country, in the upcoming weeks by voting against the food stamp and farm bill, and the Gang of Eight’s amnesty bill,” BeShears told Yellowhammer Friday evening.

The scores for Alabama’s Congressmen and Senators are below, along with a few other notable members of Congress.

What do you think? Are the scores accurate? Any surprises?

Alabama’s delegation:

Rep. Mo Brooks — 100%
Rep. Robert Aderholt — 82%
Rep. Mike Rogers — 77%
Sen. Jeff Sessions — 74%
Rep. Martha Roby — 69%
Rep. Jo Bonner — 67%
Sen. Richard Shelby — 63%
Rep. Spencer Bachus — 46%
Rep. Terri Sewell — 17%

Other notable members:

Sen. Rand Paul — 100%
Sen. Ted Cruz — 100%
Sen. Marco Rubio — 95%
Sen. Tim Scott — 95%
Rep. Eric Cantor — 69%
Rep. Paul Ryan — 62%
Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennesee — 33% (highest ranked Democrat)
Rep. Chris Gibson of New York — 23% (lowest ranked Republican)
Rep. Nancy Pelosi — 8%

What else is going on?
1. Rogers to Obama Administration: Come Clean!
2. Will Mary Scott Hunter challenge Governor Bentley in GOP primary?
3. Shelby: the cyber threat is increasing, our adversaries grow bolder and more capable
4. Sessions: Can anyone explain how this immigration bill will help struggling Americans?
5. Republican Danny Garrett running to succeed Arthur Payne in Alabama House

5 years ago

Heritage Foundation report eviscerates Gang of Eight immigration reform bill

Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint appeared on ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday to discuss Heritage’s new report on the cost of the Gang of Eight’s deeply flawed immigration reform bill.

“The study you’ll see from Heritage this week presents the staggering cost of another amnesty in our country and the detrimental effects long-term that it will have.” DeMint told host George Stephanopoulos. “There’s no reason we can’t begin to fix our immigration system so that we won’t make the problem worse, but the bill that’s being presented is unfair to those who came here legally, it will cost Americans trillions of dollars and it will make our unlawful immigration system worse.

Heritage’s report, which was released this morning, displays the staggering costs of the Gang of Eight’s plan.

According to the study, the average unlawful immigrant household in 2010 received around $24,721 in government benefits and services while paying only $10,334 in taxes. This generated an average annual fiscal deficit (benefits received minus taxes paid) of around $14,387 per household. This cost had to be borne by U.S. taxpayers.

Heritage believes this fiscal deficit for each household would soar under the Gang of Eight’s plan because it would provide unlawful households with access to over 80 means-tested welfare programs, ObamaCare, Social Security, and Medicare.

The bottom line in the Heritage study is that over a lifetime, the amnestied immigrants together would receive $9.4 trillion in government benefits and services, but only pay $3.1 trillion in taxes. They would generate a lifetime fiscal deficit (total benefits minus total taxes) of $6.3 trillion.

“Heritage is the only organization that has done an analysis of the cost,” DeMint said Sunday. “If you consider all the factors of amnesty and unlawful immigration, the cost will be in the trillions of dollars…”

When asked what he thought will happen to the bill in the Senate, DeMint said, “If people read the bill, it will be blocked.”

[Side note: DeMint will be in south Alabama Wednesday to speak at the Alabama Policy Institute’s Mobile banquet.]

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions has been leading the charge in the Senate against the Gang of Eight’s proposal. After reading the Heritage Foundation’s study, Sessions reiterated his belief that America can’t afford the costs involved in the Gang of Eight’s bill.

“At a time when our nation’s major entitlements are already nearing bankruptcy, we cannot afford to add another $6.3 trillion in long-term net costs to already over-burdened state, local, and federal governments,” Sessions said. “This bill may be good for the special interests who helped write it. But it’s bad for workers, bad for taxpayers, and fails to serve the national interest.”

Earlier today, POLITICO named Senator Sessions one of their “5 players who could stop immigration reform.”

“The former federal prosecutor has quickly emerged as the noisiest critic of the Gang of Eight on Capitol Hill,” POLITICO quipped before quoting Sessions’ lament that the Gang of Eight’s proposal “fails to live up to every major promise.”

Here’s an excerpt from POLITICO’s post:

“Sessions says leaders are going too fast. He protests the more expansive DREAM Act provisions. Trillions of dollars would be racked up in entitlement costs, he says. He predicts a surge of new immigrants under the legislation, a bad move in an era of stubbornly high unemployment. He’s likened it to the much-maligned Obamacare, warning that the effects of the immigration bill won’t be known until it’s enacted into law.

“It’s unclear how many Senate Republicans will latch onto Sessions’s message, but his persistent critiques will continue. And Sessions holds a senior role on the Judiciary Committee, putting him in a position to push conservative amendments during the markup.”

What else is going on?
1. So what should we expect this week in the legislature?
2. NRA urges Alabama Senate to concur with House-passed gun bill
3. Birmingham Attorney Elected NRA President
4. Alabama Enviro Groups Gear Up for Fight
5. Rumors & Rumblings