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What’s Next for Conservatives
A reform agenda


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Sen. Mike Lee

Another struggle facing working families is the constant challenge of work-life balance. Parents today need to juggle work, home, kids, and community. For many families, especially with young children, their most precious commodity is time.

But today, federal labor laws restrict the way moms and dads and everyone else can use their time. That’s because many of those laws were written decades ago, when most women didn’t work outside the home.

Because of these laws, an hourly employee who works overtime is not allowed to take comp time or flex time. Even if she prefers it, her boss can’t even offer it.

Today, if a working mom or dad stays late at the office on Monday and Tuesday, and instead of receiving extra pay wants to get compensated by leaving early on Friday to spend the afternoon with the kids, that could be violating federal law.

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That sounds unfair, especially to parents. But how do we know for sure? Because Congress gave a special exemption from that law for government employees.

This is unacceptable. The same work-life options available to government bureaucrats should be available to the citizens they serve.

In May, the House of Representatives passed the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013, sponsored by Representative Martha Roby of Alabama, to equalize flex-time rules for all workers.

And this week I am introducing companion legislation in the Senate.

There are real problems in this world, some of which must be addressed by government action. The fact that most working parents would prefer to spend more time with their families is not one of those problems. And Congress needs to stop punishing them for trying to do so.

The federal government also needs to open up America’s transportation system to diversity and experimentation, so that Americans can spend more time with their families in more affordable homes, and less time stuck in maddening traffic.

House-hunting middle-class families today often face a Catch-22.

They can stretch their finances to near bankruptcy to afford a home close to work.

Or they can choose a home in a more affordable neighborhood so far away from work that they miss soccer games, piano recitals, and family dinner while stuck in gridlocked traffic.

The solution is not more government-subsidized mortgages or housing programs. A real solution involves building more roads.

More roads, bridges, lanes, and mass-transit systems. Properly planned and located, these projects would help create new jobs, new communities, more affordable homes, shorter commuting times, and greater opportunity for businesses and families.

Transportation infrastructure is one of the things government is supposed to do — and conservatives should make sure it is done exceptionally well.

Unfortunately, since completing the Interstate Highway System decades ago, the federal government has gotten pretty bad at maintaining and improving our nation’s transportation infrastructure.

Today, the federal highway program is funded by a gasoline tax of 18.4 cents on every gallon sold at the pump. That money is supposed to be going into steel, concrete, and asphalt in the ground. Instead, too much of it is being siphoned off by bureaucrats and special interests in Washington.

And so Congressman Tom Graves and I are going to introduce the Transportation Empowerment Act.

Under our bill, the federal gas tax would be phased down over five years from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents. And highway authority would be transferred proportionately from the federal government to the states.

Under our new system, Americans would no longer have to send significant gas-tax revenue to Washington, where sticky-fingered politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists take their cut before sending it back with strings attached. Instead, states and cities could plan, finance, and build better-designed and more affordable projects.

Some communities could choose to build more roads, while others might prefer to repair old ones. Some might build highways, others light rail. And all would be free to experiment with innovative green technologies, and new ways to finance their projects, like congestion pricing and smart tolls.

But the point is that all states and localities should finally have the flexibility to develop the kind of transportation system they want, for less money, without politicians and special interests from other parts of the country telling them how, when, what, and where they should build.

For the country as a whole, our plan would mean a better infrastructure system, new jobs and opportunities, diverse localism, and innovative environmental protection.

And for working families, it could mean more access to quality, affordable homes, less time on the road, and making it home in time for dinner with the kids.

And finally, there is perhaps no barrier to middle-class security and opportunity more frustrating than those surrounding higher education. While it’s true that college has never been for everyone, as we transition from an industrial economy to an information- and service-based economy, post-secondary education cannot be a luxury available only to a select few.



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