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Ben's Briefing - Week of October 12th


Location: Unknown

DRUG SENTENCING DISPARITIES: On Thursday, I plan to join Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Dodd (D-CT), John Kerry (D-MA), and several of my colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee to introduce the Fair Sentencing Act of 2009, a bill that would eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and increase penalties for the worst offenders. Under current law, it takes 100 times more powder cocaine than crack cocaine to trigger the same mandatory minimum sentences. The dramatically higher penalties for crack have disproportionately affected the African American community. While only 25 percent of crack users are African American, they constituted 81 percent of those convicted for crack offenses in 2007. Sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine unfairly punishes minorities. This bill would restore fairness to our drug sentencing policies and focus limited federal resources on violent drug traffickers.

REDUCING POVERTY: As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations International Development and Foreign Assistance Subcommittee, I will introduce a resolution with Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) to empower and strengthen the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The resolution calls for the appointment of a "powerful advocate and effective leader" to be USAID administrator, who will serve as the chief advocate for U.S. development strategy. Reducing global poverty strengthens our national security while fulfilling a moral obligation to assist those in need. To accomplish this goal, we must restore our commitment to development as a pillar of our foreign policy, alongside diplomacy and defense. We should have a strong USAID Administrator in place quickly to oversee the vital functions of our primary development agency so that it can serve as a constructive partner with other U.S. agencies.

CLIMATE CHANGE: As Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I traveled to Greece last weekend for the Fall Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly. More than 200 parliamentarians from 49 OSCE participating States met in Athens to focus on climate change ahead of the United Nation's Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen. I urged international negotiators to include an enforcement mechanism in any agreement that emerges from Copenhagen that would help emphasize that every country has a responsibility take what actions are necessary to reduce dangerous greenhouse gases. I also will make a statement this week on the Senate floor to address the importance of strong climate change legislation here in America.

ON THE FLOOR: This week the Senate continues consideration of the Departments of Commerce and Justice, and Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. This important bill helps create jobs, build businesses, prepare our nation to be competitive in a 21st century global economy, while protecting our citizens against terrorism and violent crime. H.R. 2847 includes appropriations for the Department of Commerce, including the Bureau of the Census; the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and funding for state and local law enforcement; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); the National Science Foundation; the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).

MARYLAND EVENTS: On Friday, I will be attending the Howard County Senior Expo at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia to discuss issues of concern to seniors. This event for adults age 50 and older, younger adults with disabilities, their caregivers and family members will feature over 140 exhibitors, workshops, a health fair, educational seminars, pneumonia and seasonal flu shots, and free health and diabetes screenings. You can check out my latest thoughts on health care reform at

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