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The Number One Excuse Goes Bye-Bye

There is a movement in Congress to repeal or dramatically scale back mandatory minimum sentencing laws.  Specifically, four bills are on the table for a Senate Judiciary Committee markup on December 19.  The most brazen is the Leahy/Paul bill, which would effectively repeal mandatory minimums by allowing judges to ignore them at will.  A less radical plan is the Durbin/Lee bill, which would slash mandatory minimums by roughly half.  There are two other bills for what are called "back-end" reductions in sentencing.  In a way, these bills are even worse, because they hide from public view their slashing of mandatory minimum sentences; the sentences would be sliced and diced for ever-malleable "good behavior" well away from the time of conviction, much less any press coverage.

Understandably not wanting to be too up front about carrying the flag for criminals  -- which is what's actually going on  --  the backers of these bills have made their most urgent argument as follows:  The Department of Justice budget is fixed.  We don't have the money.  It's that darn sequestration. We already spend 20 to 30 percent of DOJ's budget on BOP, and if we spend more, we'll just crowd out other essential programs. Ergo, the BOP share of the budget has to be contained, and the only way to do this is to quit with these long, mandatory minimum sentences which were only enacted to begin with to satisfy you racist hatemongers.

Only tonight, the excuse blew up.

Specifically, House and Senate negotiators reached a deal on sequestration relief for a number of programs.  See this story.   I do not yet know the details, but it appears to add at least $50 billion for the Defense Department.  Someone needs to tell us why it could not have also added 2% of that amount for BOP, which would more than overcome the budget shortfall we've heard so much about as requiring us  --  requiring us, I tell you  -- to slice the number of prison beds and, therefore, the length of sentences.
I have not discovered any reason that domestic safety is less important than foreign safety.  If we can add big amounts for the DOD budget, we can add a tiny fraction of that for BOP's.

Still, I don't want to confuse our readers.  It was never about the budget to begin with.  For as long as I've been in this town (from the 1970's, that is) the government has always and ever been able to find the money for things it actually cares about. That's true whether it was for the Republican-backed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Wall Street bailout; or the Democratic-backed vast expansion of Medicaid, food stamps, education assistance and, of late, the health insurance industry (with what are going to be zillions in premium subsidies (if anyone is ever able to, and then cares to, sign up for them)).  But one way or another, the government can always find  --  and always has found  --  the money.

The idea that we can't find it to meet government's very first obligation, to protect the safety of its citizens and their property, is absurd.  It's also perverse.  It was never true, and tonight's sequester relief deal proves its mendacity beyond any serious doubt.

Those who continue to attack mandatory minimum sentencing are now left without their fig leaf.  Their real motive is exposed.  It was never to save money.  It was to favor the interests of the fraction of 1% in federal prison over the interests of the more than 99% who aren't.

These are the legislators we are dealing with.  Maybe the they need to hear from us.

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