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Looking Back and Looking Forward

By U.S. Senator Carl Levin
Friday, January 13, 2011

The past year has been a challenging one for our country. I'd like to share with you my thoughts on what we experienced in 2011 and about the coming year.

The economy and the deficit are likely to dominate 2012 just as they dominated the past year. Unemployment, both in Michigan and nationally, has fallen, and recent reports give us hope that the jobs recovery is accelerating. We've seen signs over the year that some of the steps we took to promote economic recovery are paying off.

But too often, too many in Congress spent 2011 creating artificial crises that threatened to throw us back into recession or worse. In July, Republican brinksmanship over raising the debt limit nearly brought about financial disaster. Their tactics, particularly their refusal to compromise, endangered our fragile economic recovery and America's financial standing in the world.

After the failure of the "supercommittee," the only way to avoid mindless, across-the-board cuts is if Republicans acknowledge a simple fact: real deficit reduction requires not just spending cuts, but additional revenue.

I will fight hard in 2012 for balanced deficit reduction that includes increased revenues and asks the wealthiest among us to contribute to deficit reduction.

There were some encouraging developments during the year. Improving sales and stronger financial performance showed that our domestic auto industry is recovering strongly.

We also learned a lot about the financial crisis that threatened to bring down our economy. In April, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which I chair, released a bipartisan report on the causes of the financial crisis. Our report showed how unrestrained greed, giant risk-taking by banks and blatant conflicts of interest caused chaos in financial markets.

Another major success was passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, which was my top responsibility as chairman of the Armed Services Committee. This year's bill includes strong new sanctions against Iran that are already having an effect and helping prevent development of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

The bill also includes tough new steps against counterfeit electronic parts in our weapons systems. An investigation by my committee found a flood of these counterfeit parts, mainly from China, in the defense supply chain. The danger to our troops, and the threat to their missions and our national security, is too great to allow that flood to continue.

The provisions on detention of terror suspects in the bill got more attention than all these other important priorities. The criticism of these provisions has usually been wildly inaccurate; if the bill did what some of its critics claim, I would have led the opposition.

Our bill places in statute long-standing Obama administration policies on detaining al Qaeda terror suspects, policies that have been upheld by the courts. Putting those policies in statute makes it more difficult for future presidents to expand that detention authority. It preserves the flexibility of the executive branch to use the federal courts in trying terrorism cases. For the first time, it assures that suspects held in long-term military detention will get access to a military judge and lawyer.

Just as important is what the bill doesn't do: It does not prohibit civilian trials for terror suspects. It does not strip the FBI and other civilian law enforcement agencies of their authority. It does not allow the military to make arrests on U.S. soil. It does not enact new authority to hold U.S. citizens without trial or charge. It does not provide for indefinite detention of citizens without access to civilian courts.

We took two additional important steps for our military this year. I was proud to see the end of the discriminatory "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Even military leaders who opposed the change say the transition has been seamless. And I was pleased to see the end of America's military involvement in Iraq.

2012 will be a key year in another combat theater, Afghanistan. Surge forces of approximately 30,000 troops will leave Afghanistan by this summer's end. We will continue to prepare Afghan security forces to take full responsibility for protecting their country by 2014.

I'm optimistic we'll see more progress for Michigan and the nation in 2012. I always welcome your input. Best wishes for a happy and productive 2012.