DC Update: The First Step Act & Possible Government Shutdown
As I write this, our country is on the verge of a government shutdown. As many of you saw, President Trump said last week that he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security.” Right now, it looks like he is going to make good on that threat even though here in the House and Senate, we had come to a bipartisan agreement. This is terrible news for working families across the country and for our economy and I and my Democratic colleagues have repeatedly offered ways to avoid it.
However, there is also some good news to report. This week, Congress passed the First Step Act, a monumental criminal justice reform bill. As the name suggests, this bill is an important first step in our long journey to reform our criminal justice system. I was proud to have voted for this bill yesterday and hope it is just the first of many that we can pass to make our country’s justice system fairer.
The legislation increases funding for educational and vocational training for prisoners in a bid to reduce recidivism rates. It equalizes sentencing for drug offenses involving crack cocaine and powder cocaine and makes this change retroactive, which will reduce the sentences for thousands of prisoners currently in jail on crack convictions. The First Step Act also makes some changes to mandatory minimum laws for drug offenses, including giving federal judges discretion to make exceptions on a case-by-case basis, while also reducing the three-strike penalty from life in prison to 25 years. While there is certainly more work to be done to reform our criminal justice system, this bill is a huge step forward.
Unfortunately, this spirit of bipartisanship stopped with the First Step Act. Without an agreement to avoid this Trump shutdown, 380,000 government employees will be temporarily laid off and many others will be forced to work without pay, including 50,000 Customs and Border Protection Agents, 50,000 TSA agents, almost 14,000 FBI agents, and the Secret Service agents who will be protecting the President.
Families will likely find National Parks facilities closed, travelers will be unable to get passports, home buyers will need to wait longer to get loans, and millions of Americans will find that services they rely on are now unavailable.
If this impending shutdown lasts more than a very short period, it could also have serious economic costs.
The effects of shutdowns don’t end when we reopen the government. They create economic risks that hamper growth, may reduce business investment, and create uncertainties that slow economic growth, which in turn leads to fewer jobs and real pain for working families.
For millions of Americans, a Trump shutdown would be like coal in their stockings. Apparently, this is his way of saying “Merry Christmas.”
Our country deserves better. We need to keep the government up and running. We need to do our jobs. And the President needs to give up on his vanity-project; a border wall that will do nothing to make us safer.
I continue to support the deal passed unanimously in the Senate on Wednesday or either of the options that Speaker-designate Pelosi presented. There is a way to avoid this shutdown, but it’s now up to the President.