U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is getting ready for another two years as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he's starting off playing to a favorite issue of his Republican counterpart.
In a speech today outlining his priorities, Leahy said the committee’s first hearing of the year would focus on the False Claims Act and other anti-fraud statutes. The False Claims Act, which encourages whistleblower lawsuits against government contractors suspected of fraud, has long been a pet project of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Grassley was chief sponsor of the 1986 legislation that reinvigorated the act and has worked on revisions since.
This Congress, Grassley is the new ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, succeeding Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who is now the top GOP senator on the Budget Committee.
Leahy, speaking at the Newseum in Washington, praised Grassley’s work on anti-fraud laws. He said he wants to make sure newly enacted provisions are working and that the government has enough resources for its efforts. “These investments in enforcement pay for themselves many times over with the recovery of looted tax dollars,” he said.
In the prepared text for his speech, Leahy mentions Grassley’s name nine times. He said the two began meeting last month to discuss priorities. “I made sure they would include matters important to both of us,” Leahy said.
He cited other areas of potential agreement, including antitrust concerns in the agriculture industry and possible changes to the Freedom of Information Act.
Leahy also dropped the name of the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). Leahy said he hopes they can push ahead on long-stalled proposals to overhaul the nation’s patent system, and in response to a question from the audience, Leahy said he wants to finish the legislation this year by building off earlier drafts. “I don’t want to go back to a blank slate. We’ve done a tremendous amount of work,” he said.
Exactly one paragraph of Leahy’s speech was devoted to the highly contentious issue of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees, as Leahy said he will try to “work with Senator Grassley and our Senate leadership” to fill vacancies. “This is another instance where partisanship has been a destructive influence,” he said.