Hire More Heroes Act of 2014—Motion to Proceed—Continuedby Senator Chuck Grassley
Posted on 2014-05-13
GRASSLEY. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order
for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Smarter Sentencing Act Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, there are new reports that the majority leader is considering bringing to the floor the so-called Smarter Sentencing Act, and to bring it to finality.
I rise again today to express my strong opposition to this bill and to argue against taking up the Senate's time to consider it. I will list several reasons.
This country has experienced a tremendous drop in crime over the past 30 years. We have achieved hard-won gains in reducing victimization. More effective police tactics played a very significant role.
Congress assisted with funds for law enforcement and mandatory sentencing guidelines to make dangerous offenders serve longer sentences. But after the Supreme Court applied novel constitutional theory, those mandatory guidelines were made advisory only. Federal judges then used their discretion to sentence defendants more leniently than the guidelines had called for.
Today, the only tool Congress has to make sure Federal judges do not abuse their discretion in sentencing too leniently is mandatory minimum sentences. So bringing this bill would cut a wide range of mandatory minimum sentences by half or more. Those sentences include people convicted of manufacture, sale, possession with intent to distribute, and importation of a wide range of drugs, including heroin, cocaine, PCP, LSD, ecstasy, and methamphetamines.
When supporters of this bill discuss how it increases discretion for judges and keeps current maximum sentences, what they really mean is that judges will gain discretion only to be more lenient. The bill does not increase discretion for judges to be more punitive.
When supporters of this bill say that the bill only applies to nonviolent offenders, don't be misled into thinking it applies to people in Federal prison for simple possession of marijuana. It doesn't. The offenses covered in this bill are violent.
Importing cocaine is violent. The whole operation turns on violence.
[[Page S2943]] Dealing heroin also involves violence or threats of violence, and the offense for which the offender is sentenced may have even been violent. The defendant's codefendant might have used a gun.
While the bill does not apply to a drug crime for which the defendant used violence, it does apply to criminals where the defendant has a history of committing violent crimes. Supporters have failed to recognize that it would apply to drug dealers with a history of violent crimes.
Supporters of the bill also raise the argument of prison overcrowding. But prison populations in this country are decreasing and have been in fact decreasing for several years. States have been able to reduce prison construction and sentencing as crime has thus fallen.
Charles Lane wrote in the Washington Post that one reason States could do this is the reduction in the fear of crime that has accompanied falling crime rates.
The rate of increase in Federal prison populations has fallen a great deal. In recent years, the number of new Federal prisoners receiving prison sentences has declined. New policies the Department has adopted with respect to clemency and its unwillingness to charge defendants for the crimes they have committed will only further reduce overcrowding and prison expenses.
It is also important to recognize that drug offenders are an increasingly small proportion of the new offenders who are being sentenced to Federal prison as Federal law enforcement shifts more resources away from drugs and toward immigration and weapons offenses.
The reduction in prison populations is not really so much about the cost saving as cost shifting from prison budgets to victim suffering. This is happening as the number of State and Federal prisoners has dropped.
In 2012, the last year for which statistics are available, the FBI's Uniform Crime Report recorded an increase in the number of violent crimes for the first time in many years. Now, it is only 1 year and the increase was less than 1 percent, but it represents a dramatic change in the past downward trend of crime, and it bears a vigilant watch, not support for a reckless, wholesale, and arbitrary reduction in mandatory minimum sentences.
The bill represents a particularly misguided effort in light of current conditions concerning drug use. We are in the midst of a heroin epidemic right now. Deaths from heroin overdoses in Pennsylvania are way up. The Governor of Vermont devoted the entirety of his State of the State address this year to the heroin problem.
Marijuana decriminalization is leading to the greater availability of marijuana at a lower price. This is causing Mexican growers who formerly produced marijuana to grow opium for heroin importation into this country instead of marijuana.
The Obama administration says it is concerned about the heroin epidemic, but it supports a bill that cuts penalties for heroin importation and dealing.
The administration says it wants to fight sexual assaults on campuses--and I think that is the right thing to do and I applaud them for doing that. But they are also supporting this bill, which cuts in half the mandatory minimum sentence for dealing in ecstasy, the ``date rape'' drug.
The administration's support for this bill, then, makes no sense, and at least some administration officials understand that.
We had the privilege of having the Director of the Drug Enforcement Agency before our committee a little while ago. Michelle Leonhart said: Having been in law enforcement as an agent for 33 years, [and] a Baltimore City police officer before that, I can tell you that for me and for the agents that work for DEA, mandatory minimums have been very important to our investigations. . . . We depend on those as a way to ensure that the right sentences are going to the . . . level of violator we are going after.
Current mandatory minimum sentences play a vital role in reducing crime. They do more than keep serious offenders in jail so that they cannot prey upon innocent citizens. They also induce lower-level drug offenders to avoid receiving mandatory minimum sentences by implicating higher-ups in the drug trade.
As FBI Director Comey recently stated: I know from my experience . . . that the mandatory minimums are an important tool in developing cooperators.
Recently, a bipartisan group of former Justice Department officials wrote to Leaders Reid and McConnell. Their letter expressed strong opposition to cutting mandatory minimums for drug trafficking by half or more. They warned: We are deeply concerned about the impact of sentencing reductions of this magnitude on public safety.
We believe the American people will be ill-served by the significant reduction of sentences for federal drug trafficking crimes that involve the sale and distribution of dangerous drugs like heroin, methamphetamines, and PCP.
We are aware of little public support for lowering the minimum required sentences for these extremely dangerous and sometimes lethal drugs.
We are all going to be supporting National Police Week. Officers from all over the country have traveled to Washington to make their concerns known. We salute them for the work that they do and the dangers they face. If we really respect these law enforcement people and want to support them, then we ought to listen to what they have to say.
The National Narcotics Officers' Association has written: As the men and women in law enforcement who confront considerable risks daily to stand between poisoned sellers and their victims, we cannot find a single good reason to weaken federal consequences for the worst offenders who are directly responsible for an egregious amount of political despair, community decay, family destruction, and the expenditure of vast amounts of taxpayer dollars to clean up the messes they create.
The Federal Law Enforcement Officers' Association has also come out against the bill. They have stated: It is with great concern that FLEOA views any action or attempt . . . that would alter or eliminate the current federal sentencing policy regarding mandatory minimum sentence sentencing.
The mandatory minimum sentencing standard currently in place is essential to public safety and that of our membership.
Many of us will rightfully praise our law enforcement officers as they are in town for National Police Week. But what we really ought to do is listen to them. They are telling us that taking up this bill would be a slap in the face of all our brave police officers who protect us from harm every day. They deserve better than that.
Citizens who are finally less likely to become crime victims deserve it. The respect that is due those on the front line against wrongdoers demands that the Senate neither take up nor pass the mislabeled so- called Smarter Sentencing Act.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
(Disturbance in the Visitors' Galleries.) The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Sergeant at Arms will restore order in the gallery.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Georgia.
Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded and I be allowed to speak as if in morning business.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
(The remarks of Mr. Chambliss pertaining to the introduction of S. 2330 are printed in today's Record under ``Statements on Senate Bills and Joint Resolutions.'') Mr. CHAMBLISS. Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Rhode Island.