Prepared Opening Statement of Ranking Member Chuck Grassley
Senate Committee on the Judiciary Committee
Executive Business Meeting
Thursday, October 13, 2011
With regard to the judicial nominations, we are prepared to vote on the following nominations today: Jordán, Gerrard, Phillips, Rice, Nuffer, Frank, Pane, and Webb. We have a request for a roll call vote on Gerrard and Senator Sessions would like to speak on one or more of the nominees.
Next, we have a number of bills on the agenda that we can report out of the committee. First, we have S.1301, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. Next, we have five bills that relate to the jurisdiction of the federal courts. Those are: H.R. 368, the Removal Clarification Act, H.R. 394 and its Senate companion S.1636, which are the Federal Courts Jurisdiction and Venue Clarification Act, and H.R. 2633 and its Senate companion S.1637, which are the Appeal Time Clarification Act of 2011. Finally, if we are able to reach it, we have a judges bill, S.1014, the Emergency Judicial Relief Act.
I’d like to say a few words about the Trafficking Victims Protection bill. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) is an important law that has helped countless numbers of victims since it was originally signed into law in 2000.
The law funds programs that combat trafficking. Specifically, it provides resources across the country and throughout the world to victims, advocates, law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, and to many other services that help victims.
There is, however, an unfortunate reality that we must face. We live in dramatically different times today than we did in 2000, 2003, 2005, or 2008 when the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was previously reauthorized.
Today, 14 million Americans are unemployed. That’s a 9.1 percent unemployment rate. An additional 8.8 million Americans are underemployed. The real unemployment numbers appear to get worse each month and the national deficit keeps growing and growing.
The federal government must drastically reduce its spending and bring the fiscal house in order.
During these difficult economic times, we simply can’t continue to allocate as many resources as we have in the past. And we certainly can’t continue to allocate resources without verifying that the resources are being used as effectively and efficiently as possible.
We held a hearing on the trafficking bill four weeks ago. Since the hearing, I appreciate the Chairman working with me to address my concerns with the bill as originally introduced.
I’m pleased to report that we’ve been able to find common ground.
The substitute bill that we’ll vote on today is a better bill and one I’m able to support.
At the hearing, I raised my concerns with the Department of Justice about a number of audits that have been conducted showing shocking examples of waste and abuse of grants.
I highlighted how the Inspector General had reviewed nine grants. All nine of those audits found hundreds of thousands of dollars in questioned costs, unauthorized expenditures, failed matching requirements, questioned salaries and fringe benefits, and many other problems.
I raised these audits with the witness from the Office of Justice Programs who admitted that one audit, which questioned over $1.3 million of a $1.7 million grant, showed that the grant was a failure.
This is unacceptable and the American taxpayers deserve better. These audits demanded our attention and the violations that they revealed had to be addressed in this reauthorization bill.
That’s why during the weeks since the hearing, I’ve been working to have an accountability and fraud prevention package added into the bill. I appreciate the Chairman agreeing to add these important oversight provisions into the bill.
This eleven point accountability package will help ensure that taxpayer resources are carefully spent and are only provided to programs that are working.
Holding grant programs accountable will help to ensure that services really go to those in need and aren’t simply being wasted.
I also want to thank the Chairman for revising the bill to recognize the current fiscal crisis. The last Trafficking Victims reauthorization bill included over $191 million in annual authorizations.
Despite this number, the Appropriations Committee only funded the program last year around $140 million. I’ve said it before, we in this committee need to do a better job making sure our authorizations match the realities of the appropriators.
If we simply authorize spending at levels that are unsustainable, we delegate our power to the Appropriations Committee to set the priorities.
That’s why I’m pleased that our agreement reduces the authorizations to $130 million a year. This reduction is the result of careful scrutiny of the programs to see what has been funded in the past, what programs aren’t being used, and to get rid of the ones that are duplicative.
This substitute package defunds 10 total items and programs, including additional personnel at the State Department, FBI funding, reception expenses, and unnecessary studies.
As a result, we were able to add funds to programs that help domestic victims of trafficking and provide assistance to local law enforcement. And, we did this all while making meaningful reforms to the programs. These reductions, consolidations, and reorganizations make this reauthorization stronger than those in the past.
Finally, I appreciate the Chairman working with me to focus the immigration provisions in this bill more narrowly on the victims of trafficking.
As originally introduced, the bill reached into broad areas of immigration that didn’t involve trafficking. Many couldn’t have supported the bill if these provisions remained in it.
So with the changes, I’m pleased to say that I’ll be able to support this bill. And again I want to thank the Chairman for working with me.
I’d also like to take a moment to address S. 1014, the Judges bill co-sponsored by Senators Feinstein, Kyl and Cornyn.
There are a number of aspects of this legislation that I find problematic, and I plan on offering a couple of amendments to improve the legislation.
At the outset, I’d note that we haven’t had a hearing on the legislation. I think a hearing would be helpful. I’d like to know, for instance, exactly how the Administrative Office computes the weighted case filings, so that we can better understand the current caseloads in various districts.
The first amendment I will offer, which is cosponsored by Senators Sessions, Coburn and Lee, would:
First, eliminate 10 judgeships in districts where the caseload statistics are low, and getting lower. In each of these districts, the caseload has decreased over the last 5 years, with the exception of one, which has remained flat.
In addition, in each district, even after you remove the judgeships identified in my amendment, the districts would still have caseloads that are well below the national average, across all 94 districts.
Second, my amendment would make the effective date for the creation of the new judgeships January 21, 2013. This approach is consistent with how Chairman Leahy handled the issue during the 110th Congress. And I believe this removes politics from the discussion, because none of us knows who will be President on January 21, 2013.
Third, because my amendment adopts an approach that reallocates judicial resources away from where they are not needed, it would remove the pay-for that is currently included in the bill. I believe this is a big improvement, and makes it more likely that this legislation would become law. As the legislation is currently drafted, it’s unlikely to pass the House because it doesn’t cut spending, even though it makes spending increases.
I would also note that the pay-for is, potentially, subject to a Budget Act Point of Order on the Senate floor. I understand that Senator Feinstein will offer a technical amendment intended to address this particular issue.
Our side has not received confirmation that this will, in fact, address the Budget Act Point of Order, but I’m willing to accept Senator Feinstein’s assurances that it does, and support her technical amendment. But, it is only a modest improvement and does not address the underlying deficiencies with the pay-for.
My amendment avoids any of these potential problems by reallocating judicial resources, rather than increasing the number of judges and merely raising filing fees to pay for it.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.