Friday, January 30, 2009

If Barack Obama wants bipartisanship, he should remove Byrne grants from the stimulus package

A screening last night of the new documentary, Tulia, Texas, which will air nationwide February 10 on PBS, drew a really good crowd on a chilly night, and those who stayed for the Q&A session afterward with me and Texas Monthly's Nate Blakeslee had lots of questions and, I thought, a really good discussion.

Austin's a liberal, Obama-supportng town, so most who attended seemed shocked to learn that the Bush Administration has been a bitter opponent of the federal Byrne grant program (which funds drug task forces like the one in Tulia), while the new Obama Administration is championing its resurgence.

The reasons lie in the history of the program, which was spawned by a Democratic Congress during the latter days of the Reagan Administration, aiming to bolster Democrats' "tough on crime" credentials during Michael Dukakis' failed presidential bid.

Byrne grants theoretically can pay for all sorts of criminal justice programs, but in most states they largely pay for Tulia-style drug task forces. National Republicans dislike the program on federalist grounds, believing that federal pork shouldn't pay for local law enforcement, while Dems are more likely to view backing Byrne grants as a way to avoid the "soft on crime" label.

In Texas, regular readers are aware, Governor Rick Perry eliminated our task force system in the wake of the Tulia scandal. And George W. Bush, from the earliest days of his presidency, supported total elimination of the program, in part because he was criticized over the Tulia case when he first campaigned for the office.

Ironically, Barack Obama has been unsuccessful in his first efforts to reach across the aisle on his much-ballyhooed stimulus package - in part because it's larded with pork like Byrne grants that do nothing to stimulate the economy. Ending the Byrne grant program once and for all could be a terrific early opportunity to succeed in reaching out to Republicans on an issue they've championed, actually demonstrating bipartisanship instead of just talking about it.

It really is time for national Democrats in Congress to join Republicans and dump this program, which is a massive driver of racial disparities in state-level incarceration. In some states, 85% of drug arrests are made by Tulia-style drug task forces, predominantly in black communities.

Perhaps the nationwide airing of the Tulia, Texas documentary on PBS next month will give momentum to those in Washington who want to reach across the aisle to do something positive about which both parties could be proud.

14 comments:

The Pharisee said...

He's still trying to find the doors to the White House.

Hey!

Bam!

That's a WINDOW DUDE.

Anonymous said...

"Austin's a liberal, Obama-supportng town, so most who attended seemed shocked to learn that the Bush Administration has been a bitter opponent of the Byrne grant program (which funds drug task forces like the one in Tulia), while the new Obama Administration is championing its resurgence."

Well here’s your sign shocked attendees! Another example of ignorance from the sense of not being informed.

$850 million will go to hazardous fuel reductions to stop forest fires, $13.5 billion for various kinds of housing subsidies, $200 million to rehabilitate the National Mall, $50 million outlay for the National Endowment for the Arts, The Social Security Administration would get $400 million to replace its 30-year old computer system, the Agricultural Research Service would receive $209 million for deferred maintenance at its facilities, the General Services Administration would get $600 million to replace its older fleet of vehicles with new alternative-fuel cars and trucks and on and on and on.

Jobs you say? More ignorance from the sense of not being informed.

As one poster said, "What does it mean that an airplane that “landed” in the Hudson River received at least 20 times as much attention from the major news networks as the proposed stimulus package? No one seems to be phased or even to care that Congress is about to spend more money than it has ever spent before — most of which is likely to be a waste."

Tulia was ugly and most disgraceful and I hope it never happens again. But reality sets in and tells me it’s not a matter of if it will but when it will happen again.

Did anyone at last nights meeting indicate they were going to write or call their elected officials in Washington and say no to this wasteful spending lunacy? Because after all, all the losses racked up by the Nitwit Sector pale when compared with what our government has done and is about to do.

A N.E. Texas Independent

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:38 - at least some of those things you list would actually employ more people in ways that create more jobs and an economic multiplier effect.

Byrne grants pay for low level drug enforcement that fills prisons with petty offenders and reduces both free-world economic growth and the number of people on the tax rolls.

As I've said before, I'm personally, more or less, a Keynesian on economic matters and I don't disagree with the idea of a stimulus package per se. But Byrne grants and high levels of incarceration spending don't stimulate the economy, they harm it.

Anonymous said...

"Byrne grants pay for low level drug enforcement that fills prisons with petty offenders and reduces both free-world economic growth and the number of people on the tax rolls."

By imprisoning people who probably were not employed in the first place? Scott, you really need to get some statistical information on the percentage of imprisoned people who were actually employed at the time of their alleged offense. I wish I knew.

He.. man, they get better treatment medically, not to mention dental and three squares a day, than they were giving themselves.

I'm down with you on the Byrne Grants, mainly because of the lack of oversight of spending and supplanting practices by the grantee. But what else would you expect when Congress sets the example.

The package will stimulate bigger government.

gravyrug said...

"He.. man, they get better treatment medically, not to mention dental and three squares a day, than they were giving themselves."

10:00, do you know anyone who's currently in a TX prison? A friend of mine just got out last year, and I can assure you, her medical treatment was in no way better than she's gotten since. Three squares a day? Depends on your definition of square, I guess. Cheap starchy crap covered in gravy doesn't quite count.

Prison is not a welfare program. Don't compare it to one.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"By imprisoning people who probably were not employed in the first place?"

Sure. Because if they're not employed but in the free world, they still aren't being paid for 100% by the taxpayers like they are if they're in prison.

Everybody pays sales taxes, even from illicit income, property taxes through rent, etc.. Most unemployed people still have some source of income or support. Even if that's food stamps, etc., the burden on taxpayers is less than paying for them in prison.

The key factor is the multiplier effect from free-world expenditures. If you're out in the free world spending money, you're contributing to economic circulation. If you're in prison, free world taxes are instead spent on your support and you don't routinely contribute to the circulation of money.

I agree it'd be useful to know what proportion are employed (and I'll guarantee you that number is greater than zero, perhaps substantially greater, as it was in Tulia), but the statement I made is not dependent on that statistic.

Anonymous said...

Want to stimulate the economy, read what this TX Congressman is proposing. I love Texas!


Washington, Jan 28 -

IRS Penalties and Interest Eliminated for All U.S. Taxpayers under new “Rangel Rule” Legislation



(WASHINGTON, DC) – All U.S. taxpayers would enjoy the same immunity from IRS penalties and interest as House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Obama Administration Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, if a bill introduced today by Congressman John Carter (R-TX) becomes law.



Carter, a former longtime Texas judge, today introduced the Rangel Rule Act of 2009, HR 735, which would prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from charging penalties and interest on back taxes against U.S. citizens. Under the proposed law, any taxpayer who wrote “Rangel Rule” on their return when paying back taxes would be immune from penalties and interest.



“We must show the American people that Congress is following the same law, and the same legal process as we expect them to follow,” says Carter. “That has not been done in the ongoing case against Chairman Rangel, nor in the instance of our new Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. If we don’t hold our highest elected officials to the same standards as regular working folks, we owe it to our constituents to change those standards so everyone is abiding by the same law. Americans believe in blind justice, which shows no favoritism to the wealthy or powerful.”



Carter also said the tax law change will provide good economic stimulus benefits, as it would free many taxpayers from massive debts to the IRS, restoring those funds to the free market to help create jobs.

123txpublicdefender123 said...

Scott, do you have any idea who it would be most effective to contact to try to get these Byrne grant things removed from the stimulus package? I'd really like to do something to stop this.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, this is now in the Senate, so your two senators, for starters. I don't know about the WA senators where you are, but both of Texas' have voted in the past to eliminate Byrne funding entirely.

And if you have any contacts in Obama's new Justice Department, it'd be good to talk to them, too.

Otherwise, this appears to be moving pretty fast. Joe Biden is a looooong-time Byrne supporter and hard-core drug warrior, so my fear is that this is coming from (close to) the highest levels.

Anonymous said...

Senate Judiciary Committee Members

Majority: Patrick J. Leahy, Chairman, D-Vermont; Herb Kohl, D-Wisconsin; Dianne Feinstein, D-California; Russell D. Feingold, D-Wisconsin; Charles E. Schumer, D-New York; Richard J. Durbin, D-Illinois; Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Maryland; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island; Ron Wyden, D-Oregon; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota; Edward E. Kaufman, D-Delaware

Minority: Arlen Specter, Ranking Member, R-Pennsylvania; Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah; Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa; Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama; Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina; John Cornyn, R-Texas; Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma

Senator Cornyn is on this committee.

House judiciary committe members can be found at
http://judiciary.house.gov/about/members.html

The ranking member from Texas is Congressman Lamar Smith. There are a total of 5 Congressmen/women from Texas on the house committee.

The house has already approved the stimulus package. All from Texas voted against it.

Course you can always call the White House @ 202-456-1414.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thank you, 6:47!

Anonymous said...

The Byrne Grants are largely responsible for the overloaded Texas sex offender registry that monitors for life 19 year olds who have sex with their teenage girlfriends. However, Texas pays far more than what they receive in these grants.

Pat Rogers said...

Seven months after Philadelphia, PA shut down its corruption and racism laden drug task force the city reported a homicide rate reduction of 15%.

Go figure.

Pat
Aid & comfort blog
http://drugwartreason.blogspot.com/

Douglas A. Willinger said...

Some of my wishful thinking about what Obama should do ...

http://freedomofmedicineanddiet.blogspot.com/2009/01/what-obama-really-should-do.html