WASHINGTON (AP) — An overhaul of the nation’s criminal justice system may have to wait until next year, a top congressional Republican said Monday, in the latest indication that the bipartisan effort might succumb to election-year pressures.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he believes the two parties can find consensus on the legislation in 2016.
“But that doesn’t mean it has to get done,” he told reporters.
“I’m always of the belief it’s better to get something done right than trying to make a deadline,” he said.
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The bill has been considered one of the few potential arenas in Congress where a 2016 achievement is possible.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved legislation that would ease sentencing requirements for some nonviolent offenders, including letting judges impose lesser sentences than federal mandatory minimums. Its backers include the Obama administration, No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas and the conservative Koch Industries.
But GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, Cornyn’s colleague from Texas, and other Republicans have warned the measure would lead to the release of violent felons. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has shown a reluctance to move ahead with the bill until GOP senators can reach a consensus.
Last week, Cornyn seemed to dampen expectations for quick action on the measure, saying, “”I am hopeful, but I don’t think it’s critical we do it this year.”
The federal prison population has grown from less than 25,000 in 1980 to more than 200,000 today. Proponents of the bill, which includes programs for helping prisoners reintegrate into society, say they want to make sentencing fairer and reduce ballooning prison costs.