Just before making an appearance at a Pittsburgh brewery Thursday morning, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey stopped at the office of the Observer-Reporter in Washington to talk with the newspaper’s editorial board about legislation he is pushing on Capitol Hill and a range of national and international issues.
Armed with cups of coffee – alas, he did not provide samples from the brewery he was about to visit – Casey weighed in on the escalating unrest in Egypt, gay marriage, the announcement this week that the Justice Department wants to cut mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders and the gridlock that has gripped the larger city to the southeast that’s also called Washington.
As the Thursday headlines reported that more than 500 Egyptians had been killed and more than 3,000 had been injured in a bloody crackdown by the country’s military rulers, Casey said the chaos that has descended there is “bad for Israel and the region.” Though he explained the Obama administration’s reluctance to call the military’s overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi a coup was more a matter of legal semantics, he said the United States should demand a cessation of violence and democratic elections before it sends any more aid.
“The relationship is different now,” Casey said. “The blank check which we’ve been giving to Egypt’s military cannot continue. We should have a very tough conversation with them.”
On issues closer to home, Casey acknowledged there is a risk that an unemployment rate stuck in the 7.5 percent range could be viewed as a “new normal” and there has not been enough urgency in Congress to reduce that number. He supports a range of incentives for employers to increase hiring, is working on a job training act for Marcellus Shale jobs and is for an increase in the minimum wage.
“The progress is good,” where the economy is concerned, he pointed out, “but not the momentum.” He also said greater investment in infrastructure could help add more workers to payrolls.
Casey also anticipated that the Affordable Care Act would need to be tweaked as it is implemented, and said that its backers in the administration and Capitol Hill have, perhaps, not been sufficiently vocal in defending “Obamacare” from its detractors.
“When you’ve got to govern, you’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “When you’re in opposition, you have less responsibility. And some people take that in an extreme direction.”
The Affordable Care Act is like “the inside of a clock,” with a lot of parts, Casey added, and said lawmakers would have a greater understanding of what works and what doesn’t in Obamacare only after it has been put in to practice for a couple of years.
Casey also said that a little progress has been made in breaking the stalemate in the halls of the Congress thanks to the deal hatched last month that would allow some of President Obama’s executive branch nominees to come to a vote in the Senate, and he believes the president has been engaged in greater efforts to reach out to members of Congress, and “it might have helped if he had started earlier.” He also said he backs a re-examination of how low-level, nonviolent offenders are dealt with by the criminal justice system.
“If you lock up every nonviolent offender, you don’t lock up every violent offender,” he said. “We should be focused on the most violent.”
Casey generated headlines earlier this year when he came out in support of same-sex marriage. He had been one of the few Democratic holdouts in the U.S. Senate, and Casey explained that his mind was changed by letters he received from constituents who were in committed homosexual relationships.
“As significant an issue as it is, and as much as it’s been debated, I didn’t spend the kind of time I should have thinking about it,” he admitted. “It’s inexorable. You see much more acceptance.”