Don’t get confused by headlines about tremendous bipartisan support for the First Step Act, the criminal justice reform legislation that was passed by the Senate today. Yes, it is overwhelmingly liked by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as well as the President, but there’s are two very important agendas surrounding the bill that should make citizens squirm.
First, it’s important to note that a small handful of those who are promoting the bill, including Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), have righteous intentions. These intentions may be a bit misguided and may have produced an end result that missed wildly on its stated goals, but their hearts are in the right place. This component of bipartisanship is good for America, especially considering how far apart these two are on the ideological spectrum. It’s a shame it was wasted on such an obtuse piece of legislation.
As for most of the other Republicans supporting the bill, their hearts are not in the right place. They’re being disingenuous. That’s why this bill had so much trouble for years getting to the floor in the first place. These disingenuous agendas weren’t in play then, but they are now.
The first one is financially driven. The right-leaning Koch political machine supports the bill, which means any Republicans who oppose it are not going to get the much-desired financial support that comes from the Kochs’ vast network of GOP donors. It’s as blatantly clear as any corporate lobby in DC. Most Republicans wouldn’t dare pass up on the free campaign money, or worse, risk getting a primary opponent as a result.
The second reason is based on the success of the bill itself. Those who might have voted against the bill saw the writing on the wall when the President backed it. There was nothing that could stop it from getting passed. Republican lawmakers who may be vulnerable to losing even more minority voters than they normally would could not go on record as opposing the bill or they’d risk having it thrown in their face during their next reelection campaign. The bill is highly favored by African-American and Hispanic voters, even if they’re Republicans. Since the bill was going to pass anyway, why fight it?
The reality of the bill is that, despite the President’s claims, it will not make the streets safer. It will not reduce drug trafficking. It will not address the real problems in the criminal justice system.
What it WILL do is open the floodgates way too much. That was the trade-off that was made to get it “bipartisan” support. Democrats on the far left were unwilling to support it early on because it didn’t release enough criminals. To get the support of people like Senator Kamala Harris, the scope needed to be expanded.
There are definitely perversions of justice that need to be addressed. Some people are in jail for ridiculously long terms because of unfortunate loopholes in the system. But this bill doesn’t just help those who are being incarcerated for too long. It helps those who probably should be incarcerated for longer. The concerns of people like Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Conservative Review’s Daniel Horowitz were not satisfied by the meek changes they made to it recently.
A report by the CBO tells a very different story from the one the President and the Koch brothers are pitching:
The revelation from the CBO of how many convicts will leave federal prison early is jolting in its own right. Proponents of jailbreak, who support this and similar bills precisely because it lets violent and dangerous felons out of prison, suddenly get shy when there is public scrutiny on their legislation. They angrily contend that their bill is “reform” and won’t release anyone. Well, now the CBO confirms that is not the case. Imagine releasing the equivalent of 53,000 inmates in one year from the federal population, which houses only 10 percent of the nation’s prisoners, usually the worst career felons, such as cartel and gang members.
Nearly everyone who is supporting the bill has an incentive that is very different from the stated goal of reforming the criminal justice system. We aren’t seeing bipartisanship in action. We’re seeing special interest groups hitting both sides of the table.