Monday, June 13, 2005

Dems Do Disservice Opposing Task Force Cuts

What do a 40,000 person county in Kansas and the City of Houston have in common? They're both federally designated High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs), 2 of 33 which receive federal funds for massive multi-jurisdictional coordination among federal, state and local agencies, reports USA Today.

What a joke. If you've been to rural Kansas, you know nothing that goes on there is "high intensity" anything!

HIDTA task forces are different from the Byrne grant-funded task forces this blog has discussed so often. Byrne task forces are local affairs paid for by federal block grant money distributed by the Governor in each state. In Texas, they're now managed by the Department of Public Safety. The feds have little day to day involvement until it's time for the US Attorney to cherrypick cases to prosecute at the end of the investigation. By contrast, HIDTA task forces are led by the feds and tend to go after money launderers, internatonal smugglers, and generally the bigger fish as opposed to rounding up low-level drug users.

In recent years, though, the Congressional penchant for pork barrel budgeting expanded the program into rural and other areas that may be represented by powerful legislators, but which aren't really subject to "high intensity" drug smuggling. The HIDTA described in Kansas, for example, dates from former GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole's stint as US Senator from that state.

President Bush wants to get rid of both thse programs, and USA Today provides some of the better coverage I've seen of this underreported Bush budget cut. As I've argued before, that's a smart move away from a failed approach. Maddeningly, though, Democrats hope to turn it into a political football, running to the right trying to pretend they're more tough on crime than the Republicans. Do they really think anyone's ever going to buy that?

"We are all united on the war on terror, but we cannot be focused (on it) to the total exclusion of other problems," says U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. "We have not won the battle against drug trafficking."

The country should not be lulled into complacency by declining crime and drug abuse rates, says Ron Brooks, president of the National Narcotics Officers' Associations' Coalition.

"I believe that the loss of 19,000 lives (to drugs) annually and a cost of $160 billion each year means that drug trafficking is a form of home-grown terrorism in America," Brooks told a U.S. House panel in March. "We should be embracing what has worked, not dismantling successful programs."

You know, even if you grant the Narcotics Officers' Association's numbers (and I'd argue they're highly questionable) if the program I was defending resulted in public policy that allowed the loss of 19,000 lives and cost $160 billion per year, I'm not sure I'd be bragging it was "successful."

Rep. Jackson-Lee's comments are a disappointment. The Congresswoman from Houston recently proposed legislation to require corroborating evidence for undercover testimony in states receiving federal Byrne grant money. She knows about the problems associated with these enforcement programs all too well. I'd hoped she and other Democrats would support President Bush when he proposed zeroing out the Byrne fund, plus dramatically slashing HIDTA. Those are failed programs that haven't reduced drug use in two decades of operation. Instead, Jackson-Lee and most other Democrats still support paying for these failed strategies, while many of the leading critics of HIDTA and Byrne operations come from the right:

Critics of the program, including Citizens Against Government Waste, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Heritage Foundation, say it has been mismanaged and unfocused.

"These programs have become bloated," says David Muhlhausen, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. "There's very little evidence they are working."

Tom Schatz, president of the non-partisan Citizens Against Government Waste, says he expects Congress to protect the program: "It's morphed into a giant opportunity for members of Congress to grab money for their states and districts so they can say they are doing something about drug trafficking. Suddenly 25% of the U.S. population is living in a high-intensity drug-trafficking area."

The Bush Administration and their conservative allies are entirely on the right side of this question. Besides demagoguing against drug traffickers, Democrats' main argument against the budget cuts holds that the money COULD be spent on better programs like drug courts and probation services. Yes, I'd reply, and the money spent on the Iraq War could have been spent to fix Social Security. So what? Opposing a cut by saying misspent money could be spent on something different than at present, really, isn't a very credible position if you can't defend the program on its merits. Apparently, D.C. liberals have become so reflexively anti-Bush that even worthy ideas from the White House now receive bitter, politicized disapprobation.

That's a shame. Even a stopped clock is right twice per day.

1 comment:

jdallen said...

"Rep. Jackson-Lee's comments are a disappointment." Come on, man. Not only her comments, Shiela Jackson-Lee is a disappointment. As a matter of fact, most of our Representatives are disappointments. And Senators. And that guy, uh, what was his name? Has a little place up in Crawford. Damn. My memory is shot.