Where does congress stand with passing new gun-related legislation, and what elements are you fighting most strongly to make sure are included?
In last weekend’s Weekly Address to the nation, President [Barack] Obama renewed the call for legislation to prevent gun violence and championed the work already done by Congress on the issue. In the three months since the tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn. that sparked this latest round of debate, we have made some progress to end the violence but still much is left undone.
The Senate has steadily worked on new legislation to reduce gun violence. Several bills are making their way to the floor for final passage that will strengthen background checks and crackdown on individuals who purchase guns to funnel to criminals. These two measures, which have broad support by the public, would greatly reduce the number of guns available to criminals.
Unfortunately, there have been some setbacks along the way. Last week, Sen. Harry Reid announced that he would not bring the assault weapons ban to the floor for a vote. Troubling as that news is, the fight is not over. Hopefully Sen. Diane Feinstein can successfully introduce an amendment to include that provision. Military-style weapons do not belong in our communities and it deserves an up or down vote.
The Republican controlled House still remains the major hurdle to overcome and it is unclear what legislation Speaker John Boehner will try to pass. Everything relies on enough centrist Republicans willing to buck their far right Tea Party colleagues to join with Democrats to pass some common sense legislation. The House Democrats, led by California Rep. Mike Thompson, have convened a task force to develop a bill that can draw in enough Republicans to pass.
I have been working with the task force to advance several of my own provisions in the Democrats’ bill. Chief amongst them is the simple idea that all gun laws should apply to all guns. It makes no sense that we treat handguns, shotguns and rifles differently. They are all guns and should be treated as such.
Finally, I have been pushing for universal background checks and want them to include any military court records. Strong background checks are the best tool to keep guns out of the hands of violent individuals and I will continue to fight until that becomes the law.
As U.S. wars overseas draw to a close, will defense spending shrink accordingly?
When I take a look at the budget projections for the next 10 years, the question I am left asking is “Where is the peace dividend?”
Since World War II, our country has scaled back military spending to match the reduction in active duty troop levels that come at the end of a major conflict. It makes sense that with lower troop levels, the funds needed to support those troops would be reduced.
As our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan draws to a close, we will see a slight reduction in the Pentagon’s budget but the majority of that is due to the sequester, which the Republicans would like to see reversed. Despite the fact we will no longer be engaged in two wars, many in Washington feel the need to divert limited dollars from domestic programs to use instead on wasteful military programs.
Even if the sequester levels remain in place, the Pentagon’s budget will match the spending levels from the height of Vietnam or the Cold War when adjusted to today’s dollars. What makes that statistic even more alarming is that we have only about half the number of active troops now as our country did during that time period.
Instead of padding the profit margins of large defense contractors, we should use the potential savings where they are truly needed, on investments here at home—including helping returned veterans. A large number of soldiers will come home to the challenges of post-traumatic stress disorder or injuries that require long-term care. Additionally, others will face the tough task of finding employment in this still fragile economy. We should invest the savings of ending the two wars into programs that help our veterans return to the civilian world. We need a peace budget, not one that thinks we are still at war.