Comments Of Senator Patrick Leahy About The President’s Focus In His State Of The Union Message

I share the President’s optimism about America’s future.  But as far as we’ve come from the depths of the Great Recession of 2008, much more needs to be done to open the doors of economic opportunity and help working families.  We need steady, focused action to make the economy and government work for the middle class, and not just for the swelling ranks of the rich and the privileged.

For our middle class we need policies that bubble up, not failed trickle down schemes.  Making college available, affordable and a real choice for millions of students needs to move to Congress’s front burner as a top priority this year and beyond.  Too many students are saddled for decades with school debt.

We also need to pursue smart, effective national security answers without discarding our hard-won freedoms and values.

The tantrums and government shutdowns by obstructionists in Congress are completely out of step with the vast majority of Americans.  They want cooperation and effective action on our most pressing opportunities and challenges.  I hope the constructive tone the President set tonight will resonate this year in the halls of Congress.

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Comments On Other Leahy-Related Activities:

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM.  The President has challenged Congress to pass our bipartisan legislation to begin to undo the harm of costly and counterproductive mandatory sentences — and to keep the legislation free from any corporate giveaways that do not respond to the root causes of unnecessarily long prison sentences.

COMMUTATIONS.  The size of our prison population is out of control, and the President can do something about it in his remaining year.  We have locked up too many people for too long, separating families and shoveling out huge sums that we do not have and that detract from priorities such as law enforcement and help for crime victims.  The President can take immediate steps to alleviate this problem by commuting the sentences of those paying the political price for unwise and unwarranted mandatory minimum sentences. 

GUANTANAMO.  The detention facility at Guantanamo is a corrosive stain on our national reputation and should be closed.  I hope the President will follow through on expediting the transfer of the detainees to foreign countries and to accelerate the review process to determine if others can and should be transferred.

CUBA POLICY.  The steps toward a sensible new Cuba policy advanced last year with the embassy openings.  Congress has a vital role in reviewing, and replacing, such failed policies as barring Americans’ travel to Cuba, and the economic embargo.  

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