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Levin: Close Vote Likely in Senate Military Sexual Assault Measure

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Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Sen. Carl Levin in 2012. US Navy Photo

Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Sen. Carl Levin in 2012. US Navy Photo

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee says commanders “are essential to winning this fight” [against sexual assault], but he expects a “much closer vote on the floor” as to whether they will be the ones deciding to prosecute such cases.

Speaking on Aug. 9 to the Reserve Officers Association in Washington, D.C., Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said the bill that the committee passed included provisions for special victims’ counsel, making it a crime to retaliate for reporting possible sexual assault, higher-level review of decisions not to prosecute, and limiting a commander’s authority to reverse verdicts in those cases.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a member of the committee, had introduced a bill that would have taken the decision out of the chain of command and placed it in judge advocate general’s office. About 3,200 cases of sexual assault were reported in 2012. At the time a Pentagon report on sexual assault and harassment was released in May, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that 19,000 cases went unreported.

Citing Missouri Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill’s experience as a prosecutor, Levin said, “Commanders are more likely to favor prosecution” than lawyers interested in winning a case. He added that “commanders are pivotal to ending this wave of sexual assaults” just as they were in successfully integrating the armed forces, combating drug abuse, and transitioning the services from “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies on sexual orientation.

Levin was interrupted during his remarks by applause when he stressed the commander’s role in such cases and again when he asked for the ROA’s support of the committee’s bill.

Addressing the impact of the automatic cuts in discretionary federal spending—defense and domestic programs, he said “I sure don’t” regard them as savings. “They are tearing at the readiness of all the components” of the military at the same time as they cut spending on “educating our children” and “research on life-saving cures.” He termed sequestration, as the process is known, a “straitjacket.”

He said there is still time to avoid a second round of automatic cuts that would take effect 1 October, the beginning of the new fiscal year, by taking a “balanced approach” to raising revenues, reforming entitlements, and targeted spending cuts—but not those called for under “the rigidity of the law.”

Levin held out hope that an agreement in those areas could be reached with some Senate Republicans, such as John McCain of Arizona, but was less optimistic about prospects in the House.

He said additional revenues could be gained by “closing outrageous loopholes” in the tax code, such as corporations sheltering profits through “shell companies in offshore tax havens,” which would take in an additional $100 billion. When coupled with entitlement reform, they would account for two-thirds of the required spending reductions and revenue increases called for in the Budget Control Act of 2011, he said.