By Meredith Mays, Legislative Representative, IACP
The 111th Congress: What to Expect
he inauguration of a new U.S. president and the convening of the 111th Congress in January will no doubt bring changes that are significant to the law enforcement community. This column outlines the issues and structural changes to be brought about as a result of the U.S. election in November.
The next Congress likely will address several issues of importance to the law enforcement community.
In the October issue of the Police Chief, now President-elect Barack Obama outlined his positions on key issues affecting the law enforcement community. One issue for which the IACP has advocated aggressively is the creation of a presidential commission on law enforcement and homeland security. President-elect Obama stated that he was supportive of this idea and looked to this type of commission to “tackle the new 21st-century crime and homeland security challenges the country faces.”
The president-elect also discussed the need for funding critical state, local, and tribal law enforcement assistance grants. He stated, “State and local law enforcement are under more pressure than ever with increased homeland security responsibilities, steadily high crime rates, and reduced budgets. I will reestablish the federal partnership with state, local, and tribal law enforcement by funding the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, the COPS program, and the Law Enforcement and Terrorism Prevention Program.”
The IACP has been fighting this year and in recent years to increase law enforcement assistance funding of this kind. Since fiscal year (FY) 2003, vital assistance programs like the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (Byrne-JAG) and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Program have suffered devastating cuts. In FY 2008 alone, the Byrne-JAG program received only $170 million, a 68 percent decrease from the previous year.
President-elect Obama has also stated that he wants to improve information- and intelligence-sharing capabilities to ensure that “local law enforcement is a full partner in the development of our homeland security strategy.” Additionally, the president-elect called for the need to reduce violent crime and drug trafficking throughout the country.
It is highly likely that these and other issues—including the Employee-Employer Cooperation Act, the assault weapons ban, and the Tiahrt Amendment—will also be subject to discussion in the 111th Congress.
When the new Congress convenes in late January, there will be many new and some old faces on Capitol Hill.
Senate: At press time, the new Senate had 58 members of the Democratic caucus (including two independents, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) and 40 in the Republican caucus, with two races yet undecided. In Minnesota, Al Franken (D) and incumbent Senator Norm Coleman (R) are headed for a recount, and in Georgia, sitting Senator Saxby Chambliss (R) and challenger Jim Martin (D) face a runoff on December 2.
In addition, with both President-elect Barack Obama (D-Illinois) and Vice Presidentelect Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) leaving their Senate positions, there are two other seats up for grabs. The governors of each of their respective states will appoint someone to serve for the next two years of each term, after which special elections will be held in 2010 in each state to fill the vacancies permanently.
Senate leadership will remain the same: Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) will return as well as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Arizona).
Senate committees pertinent to the law enforcement community and their leadership are, for the most part, finalized. Lieberman will remain chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. It is expected that Susan Collins (R-Maine) will retain her position as ranking member. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) is expected to remain chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, while Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) is expected to keep his position as ranking member. For that committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, it is unknown who will assume the chair position vacated by Vice President–elect Biden or if Lindsey Graham (R–South Carolina) will retain the position of ranking member. In addition, Dianne Feinstein (D-California) will become the new chair of the Senate Committee on Select Intelligence, while Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-Missouri) will likely retain the ranking member position.
House of Representatives: The new House of Representatives is currently divided between 256 Democrats and 175 Republicans. There are a few House races still to be decided, but they will not affect the balance of power. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) is expected to retain the position of Speaker of the House, while Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) and James Clyburn (D–South Carolina) are expected to retain the offices of majority leader and majority whip, respectively. John Boehner (R-Ohio) will remain the minority leader and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) will remain minority whip.
Other House committees of interest to the law enforcement community will likely remain the same. At press time, it is expected that John Conyers (D-Michigan) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas) will retain chair and ranking member positions, respectively, for the House Committee on the Judiciary. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) and Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) will retain leadership positions on that committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. It is expected that Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) and Peter King (R–New York) will retain leadership positions on the House Committee on Homeland Security, while Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) will remain chair and Pete Hoekstra (R-Michigan) the ranking member of the House Committee on Select Intelligence.
The IACP will remain focused on and keep members updated on any developments in the 111th Congress.
For more information, readers can contact the author via e-mail at email@example.com. ■