Overcriminalization is not Conservative: Why Republican Senators Should Support S. 2123

 

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S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA), is inherently conservative because it benefits Americans while significantly reducing federal spending. The current changes to SRCA examined in the Senate aim to address the concerns of some legislators while keeping the substantive reforms to the nation’s broken justice system. If nothing is done, the price of maintaining a sufficient justice system will become far too costly.

Senate support originates from the SRCA sponsor, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and it is cosponsored by notable senators such as John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rand Paul (R-KY).

SRCA is not a revolutionary new approach to the justice system but rather a measured application of years of reform experience onto the federal prison system. Thanks to months of education and study, conservative stalwarts like Senators Grassley and Lee lead efforts to push the issue. This is a major development after the demagoguery and falsehoods peddled by actors who neglect to offer their own proposals.

The new changes would remove any possibility that serious violent criminals will see any sentencing relief.

Costs

The criminal justice system in its current state is extremely costly to the United States budget. According to the Justice Department’s Inspector General, the Bureau of Prison’s budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 totaled $6.9 billion and represented 25 percent of the DOJ’s discretionary budget.

Comparatively, the BOP’s FY 2000 budget is only $3.8 billion and 18 percent of the DOJ’s discretionary budget. This doubled monetary increase damages the DOJ by preventing it from participating in other critical law enforcement programs.

Plans like SRCA prove to reduce costs as seen in states like Texas. When Texas spent $240 million up front in 2007, they closed 3 prisons and saved an estimated $3 billion with reforms that lowered the prison population while increasing public safety. With this overhaul, Texas lowered its prison population by more than 20%. Also, Texas crime plummeted to its lowest levels since 1968.

Impacts

By proposing a comprehensive plan, SRCA will have a significant impact on improving the justice community and will benefit all Americans. It provides for common-sense reform to prevent cruel and unusual punishment, decrease recidivism rates, and enhance public safety.

Today’s federal system spends significant amounts to imprison non-violent and low-level offenders rather than leaders of organized crime. According to an October 2011 U.S. Sentencing Commission Report to Congress, only 11 percent of those sentenced for drug offenses were “high-level suppliers or importers.” Only 7.1 percent were “organizers, leaders, or manufacturers.” However, 58.6 percent of those sentenced for drug offences were street-level dealers or below, and 27.8 percent were “couriers” or “mules.” These numbers depict the failure of the current system to target high-profile criminals it intended to incarcerate.

Recidivism rates in the U.S. are also daunting. 95 percent of federal prisoners will eventually  be released into the general public, but most of them lack  the tools to become rehabilitated members of society. SRCA creates a Recidivism Risk Assessment to determine risk levels for prisoners. Those with lower risk would receive credits to reduce their sentences by completing training programs proven to work in states like Texas.

Working to decrease recidivism enhances public safety. Prisoners return to the community with rehabilitation training and skills to help them contribute to society.  These are not “weak provisions;” they are smarter provisions that increase safety and decrease taxpayer costs.If anything, training requirements mean we are getting tougher, not softer on crime.

Consequences of Doing Nothing

As costs continue to increase exponentially in the federal prison system, less funds are available to assist other programs in DOJ. This increases the national debt and demands higher taxes to provide the average $30,000 per prisoner per year (with more than 215,000 people in federal prison during 2014). Prisoners lacking skills continue to be released into the community each year. Without any formal assistance to gain necessary capabilities to contribute to the community, these ex-prisoners return to prison due to lack of employability.

The vicious cycle of mass incarceration must end, and the conservative proposals within SRCA provide the most effective long-term solutions. These resolutions increase domestic security, decrease costs, and prevent crimes that are being unfairly punished-an inherently “conservative” ideal. I urge the Senate, especially conservatives, to support S.B. 2123 to reform the dysfunctional justice system.

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A Real House of Cards

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In the past few years, many Americans have been gripped by the hit Netflix series, House of Cards, the story of the corrupt House Majority Whip, Francis Underwood who exacts vengeance on his political adversaries standing in his way to higher power.

Lately, the story of another Majority Whip moving up the political ladder permeates through news feeds across America. That would be the story of former Majority Whip, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). McCarthy rose from his role as Whip to Majority Leader after the unprecedented primary defeat of sitting Leader at the time, Eric Cantor (R-VA). McCarthy recently seemed destined to be Speaker of the House after Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) resignation announcement.

However, in the midst of this rapid ascendancy, McCarthy ran into a problem that had plagued Boehner in recent years. This was the resilience of more ardent conservative groups within the House, namely, the House Freedom Caucus. The Caucus felt Boehner was not adequately conservative, nor was he willing enough to block President Barack Obama’s executive actions. The Caucus attempted to oust Boehner from his role in the last Speaker elections and failed.

After Boehner’s resignation, the Freedom Caucus effectively blocked McCarthy’s path to the speakership by unifying and demanding effective conservative leadership. After this great conservative victory, talks have drifted towards the election of Representative, and former Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan (R-WI) as the new Speaker. A Ryan speakership would undermine all progress the Freedom Caucus has made in the House and threaten the legitimacy of conservative movements throughout America.

Ryan was once thought of as a conservative voice in the Republican Party, however his recent record suggests he is firmly in line with establishment types like Boehner and McCarthy that House conservatives have tried to prevent. He went left on immigration, and compromised on a budget deal in negotiations with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) that fell far short of any meaningful spending cuts. He also rebuffed the Tea Party time and time again in his memoir, The Way Forward, criticizing its strategy.

Ryan now says he will be open to a run for Speaker, so long as the entire Republican caucus in the House can unite behind him. This is rather ironic, given how he’s abandoned his support for the Tea Party and has not been willing to embrace their vision for combatting Barack Obama’s policies. Paul Ryan desires the support of his entire party, but will not lend its members the same respect. Ryan cannot unite this legislature now.

Rejecting Ryan’s aspirations for Speaker are also important for staunch House conservatives in the influential House Freedom Caucus, as well as the Republican Study Committee (another conservative caucus). Taking down Boehner as Speaker has been one of the most highlighted agenda points of these two groups for years now. They have done that, and now prevented McCarthy, another establishment leader, from replacing him. With the rise in anti-establishment sentiment evident by the successes of presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson in recent polls, this is the ideal time for these groups to stand strong and demand a true conservative Speaker.

If these groups bend to the will of the establishment and believe that Paul Ryan truly is the unifier the Republican Party needs, then it will confirm in the minds of many Americans that the conservative wing of the Republican Party is, in fact, only an apparatus to obstruct any sort of meaningful progress in the legislature. Many in the conservative movement have rejected this image. However, given the current political climate, and the successes against Boehner and McCarthy, it may be impossible to refute if Ryan is allowed to become Speaker.

The yearnings for a Ryan Speakership are not due to lack of options emanating from the conservative wing of the House. Representatives Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Bill Flores (R-TX), Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) have all floated their names out there as potential candidates and all have received ratings of 78% or above from the conservative think tank, Heritage Action on their voting records, well above the House Republican average. The conservatives could reasonably unite behind any one of these candidates to ensure the next Speaker will actually defend conservative interests.

Unfortunately, the idea that the conservative caucus cannot drive the agenda has permeated too far within the Congress. If the Freedom Caucus and its allies accept a Ryan Speakership and view the fact that neither Boehner, nor McCarthy will be the next leader of the Congress as a sufficient victory, then the aforementioned perception is correct and the accusations that House conservatives are only an obstructive force will be justified with flying colors.

This year is unique, politically, for so many reasons. The foremost of which is the rise of the anti-establishment politicians. House conservatives have this unique opportunity to right the wrongs the establishment has allowed in Congress to this point. With this majority, the House should have harnessed the power of the purse to prevent the implementation of Obamacare, the unconstitutional executive amnesty that President Obama has pushed on the nation, and should have been able to defund a grossly mismanaged organization receiving federal funds in Planned Parenthood (regardless of whether or not they profit from the sale of fetal tissue). However, this has not been the case with Speaker Boehner thus far. The time has come to make a change that has been a long time coming. The fate of the conservative movement sits in the House, and, if it is allowed to fail, the house of cards will fall and the legitimacy of conservatives in all offices will fall with it.

Author’s Note: I previously published an article documenting the need to remove Speaker Boehner, as well as Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell from their posts in April, and detailed their failures as legislators. That article can be found here: https://aucrsblog.com/2015/04/15/donkeys-in-elephants-clothing/

Donkeys in Elephants’ Clothing

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Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid’s (D-NV), impending retirement brings much excitement for Republicans in Congress. One of the biggest obstacles to the Republican agenda will soon be removed. While this may, for the short term, be a victory for the GOP, the celebration should be tempered, as there are two larger, more obstructive figureheads that stand in the way of the Republican policy agenda, and they come from within.

The 2014 midterm elections that gave Republicans control of the Senate and made Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Senate Majority Leader, Reid’s previous post, are very similar to the 2010 elections that brought John Boehner (R-OH) into his role as Speaker of the House. Both elections were massive rejections of President Barack Obama’s policies and a call to Republican congressional leaders to defend the Constitution and stop Obama’s Executive overreach. However, McConnell and Boehner have not only fallen short in their pursuit of these objectives, they have often stood in the way of these pursuits.

If one were to take a step back and view only the recent major policy measures in Congress, it would be very difficult to tell that the Democrats are not, in fact, still in charge of the legislative branch. It began with the recent omnibus-spending bill that passed Congress in December. Boehner, along with the support of Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, as well as fifty-seven House Democrats passed this bill that permits the Obama administration to fund Obamacare, along with the executive amnesty that will grant legal status to about five million illegal immigrants. It continued again with Boehner’s efforts to shepherd through the DHS funding bill in March that again granted the administration funding for its agenda.

What is particularly upsetting about Boehner’s most recent cave to the Democrats with the DHS funding is how it originated. The House, at first, rejected this bill after it passed McConnell’s Senate. However, Boehner would go out of his way and take advantage of a rarely used House procedural rule to reverse the House’s previous decision that denied funding to the Department of Homeland Security and Obama’s amnesty. Boehner joined with seventy-four other Republicans along with unanimous Democrat support to allow the funding bill to pass.

Actions such as these have come to define Boehner’s relationship with conservatives in Congress. Boehner’s unwillingness to fight tooth and nail against Obama’s policy agenda coupled with his willingness to join forces with every Democrat in Congress led to a legitimate challenge to his role as Speaker earlier this year. He narrowly gained the majority he needed despite the opposition of twenty-five Republicans, the largest amount of opposition within a party’s Speaker vote in over one hundred years.

The number of congressmen who oppose the Speaker’s approach may, in fact, be larger than the twenty-five that voted against him. Congressman Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), a noted critic of the Speaker, as well as the head of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress and one of the twenty-five who stood up to Boehner attributes the low number to intimidation. He said, “If you are found to be voting against the speaker, you don’t get the chairmanship you thought you were going to get, you don’t get to move up, your bill doesn’t get heard on the floor.”

Boehner’s recent actions seem to show quite clearly that Congressman Huelskamp is correct in his assessment of the Speaker. Representative Daniel Webster (R-FL), along with Rich Nugent (R-FL), were removed from the highly influential House Rules Committee after voting against Boehner. Additionally, Randy Weber (R-TX) had his name removed as a co-sponsor of legislation recently after casting his vote against Boehner. Also, Boehner canceled Representative Steve King’s (R-IA) trip to Egypt to meet with Egyptian President al-Sisi. An anonymous source close to the Speaker was quoted as saying, “Those rewards aren’t going to be handed out to members who oppose the broader GOP team on a regular basis.”

In other words: If you oppose the Speaker, you will get marginalized.

For readers wondering where McConnell plays into all of this, the Senate has punted time and again on the same legislation that would put a stop to Barack Obama’s policies. To be fair, Senator McConnell has only been in the majority for a couple of months and has not had as much time as Boehner to build as impressive a resume when it comes to opposing conservative policy initiatives.

However, McConnell certainly does his best to undermine strong-minded conservatives when he can. McConnell constantly badmouths lawmakers who are willing to take drastic measures to defeat the Obama agenda, namely, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). McConnell, at a recent dinner in Washington, talked about how Ted Cruz would throw himself in front of a train to stop Obamacare in its tracks, then adding, “That idea has some merit to it.”

Boehner and McConnell established that their tenure in the Republican leadership is not dedicated to stopping Obama’s executive overreach. In fact, Boehner and McConnell’s leadership is the epitome of career politicians everywhere: seizing power, neglecting their campaign promises, and using it to maintain power through mushy modesty.

This strategy did not work out well for former House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor (R-VA), whose constituents historically jettisoned him out of office in a primary election, instead choosing Congressman Dave Brat (R-VA), one of the twenty-five opponents to Boehner in the Speaker election.

The time has come for the Republican Party to relegate people like Boehner and McConnell, who use their position to not only refuse to fulfill their promise to stifle the Obama agenda, but also to smother any bold politician with the will to actually do so, to roles like the one Cantor now plays. It is time to elevate promise-keepers like Congressman Brat, Congressman Huelskamp, and Senator Cruz into positions of power if the Republican Party is truly serious about defending the constitution and eliminating President Obama’s executive obtrusiveness.

Checks and Balances: The DHS Funding Debacle

After an absolutely brutal shellacking in the 2014 midterm elections, President Obama was despondent. Republicans picked up nine seats in the Senate, thirteen seats in the House, and netted three new gubernatorial seats (Republican Bruce Rauner’s win in Illinois for the governorship was a particularly stinging defeat for Obama). By all objective standards, the 2014 Midterm Elections were a historic drubbing for the Democratic Party.

New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spoke in a press conference on November 5, 2014, the day after the midterm trouncing. Speaking from a podium in Louisville, Kentucky, Senator McConnell spoke at length about the possibilities of bipartisanship with the new Congress and President Obama: “When the American people chose divided government, I don’t think it means they don’t want us to do anything. I think it means they want us to look for areas of agreement.” Senator McConnell also promised to get the Senate voting on legislation once more, saying: “From an institutional point of view, the Senate needs to be fixed. The Senate in the last few years basically doesn’t do anything. We don’t even vote.” President Obama, whose only promise of bipartisanship was a pledge to “enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell,” did not match McConnell’s optimism about bipartisanship.

In the early days of November 2014, President Obama’s approval rating hovered around a dismal 41%, a factor that certainly played into his party’s demolishment in the midterms. Facing the last two years of his administration, Obama was determined to avoid becoming another lame duck president. Motivated by the treacherous midterm election results, the president made the perplexing decision to move even farther left by introducing a barrage of ultraliberal ideas. Despite the 2014 Midterm Elections being widely interpreted as a referendum on his presidency, President Obama was almost defiant in his reaction to the new gains made by Republicans. Chief among Obama’s proposals, which included the bamboozling decision to normalize relations with the Castro Regime in Cuba, was an executive order that created a new amnesty program and expanded another.

President Obama’s executive amnesty will give illegal immigrants residing in the United States for five years or longer, with children that are U.S. citizens, a three-year work permit that would allow them to obtain Social Security cards and driver’s licenses. According to Pew Research, a whopping 3.5 million illegal aliens would qualify for this program. In addition to this new amnesty program, an expansion of the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals would also go into effect. This expansion would provide amnesty for all illegals that entered the U.S. as a minor before 2010. Pew Research estimates that this expansion would provide eligibility benefits for approximately 235,000 more illegal immigrants.

To anybody with a modicum of knowledge of American politics, President Obama’s executive amnesty screams of an attempt to score last minute political points with his progressive base at the expense of the American people. This executive order would have a disparate impact on Southern border-states, whose police departments would be forced to deal with a higher workload, more crime, and a greater influx of illegal immigrants. In addition, a poll by Bloomberg Magazine in December 2014 found that 56% of Americans disapprove of Obama’s executive amnesty. Even more remarkable is the complete about-face the president made in regards to immigration reform. From as early as March 2008 to as recent as August 2014, President Obama espoused that he could not act unilaterally on immigration reform over twenty times. “I’m not a king,” President Obama said on January 30, 2013, “If this was an issue that I could do unilaterally I would have done it a long time ago. … The way our system works is Congress has to pass legislation. I then get an opportunity to sign it and implement it.”

Congress, quite thankfully, has the power of the purse. The only thing Congressional Republicans can do to thwart this executive amnesty is to defund the measure. The so-called “CRomnibus” (a combination of a continuing resolution and omnibus) bill passed in December 2014 was a step in the right direction. While this omnibus bill breezed through Congress, funding most federal agencies until September of 2015, it left out one department. Of course, the only department that remained unfunded by this omnibus bill was the Department of Homeland Security. On January 14 of this year, the House of Representatives passed a $40 billion spending to fund most of DHS, with provisions to stop Obama’s executive amnesty dead in its tracks.

When the $40 billion spending package was introduced in the Senate, Democrats filibustered it endlessly, demanding the House pass a “clean bill” to fund DHS. This “clean bill” would also provide funding for the aforementioned executive amnesty. Filibustering by Democrats has officially killed the DHS funding bill, with Senator McConnell calling on the House to pass a DHS funding bill that would garner the 60 Senate votes necessary to send it to the president’s desk. “The House has done its job,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) mercilessly contended, “ask Senate Democrats when they’re going to get off their ass and do something-other than to vote no.”

Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer has called on Senator McConnell to abolish the filibuster, making the process of obstruction for the Democrats virtually impossible: “Reid went first. Time for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to finish the job. Push the button. Abolish the filibuster.” The nuclear option seems to be the only way to go to pass a spending bill that will get to the president’s desk. If a bill is not passed by February 27, the Department of Homeland Security will shut down. With the deadline looming on funding such a vital part of our government, Congressional leadership must do something.

Email the author at hebertletters@gmail.com