ABC News' Sherisse Pham (@sherisse) reports: Martin Sheen was on Capitol Hill Tuesday, just in time to witness the partisan gridlock over the country's debt and budget. In an interview with ABC’s Jonathan Karl, the former West Wing star recalled what his character did when confronted with members of the opposition digging their heels in.
“I think I shut down the government if I'm not mistaken,” said Sheen. “And I walked up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Hill and waited in the speaker's office and if that's required I'll do that again as well.”
President Obama — are you listening?
Sheen didn’t actually come to Washington to relive his President Bartlet days, but to advocate for Drug Courts — courts that work under a special model in which the law, police, social services and treatment communities work together help non-violent offenders. Sheen testified before a Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
The actor and activist said Drug Courts has bipartisan support — a rarity in Washington these days.
“We've done a lot of lobbying over the past few months on the hill, both sides of the aisle. And across the board it's been — maybe it is the only issue that there is bipartisan support. I promise you it's there,” said Sheen.
The program needs another $88.7 million dollars for fiscal 2012 — a hard sell of late, given the ongoing debate over the country’s debt and budget. Still, Sheen said the program could use more money.
“There are upwards of 1.2 million people severely addicted across the United States. There are 2,500 drug courts established in the states. It’s not nearly enough to cover all that needs to be done,” said Sheen.
The actor predicted an influx of veterans coming back from multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan in the near future. Enlarging the program, he said, would make sense. Limiting the program because of budget concerns, he added, would be "catastrophic."
“Who wouldn’t save a dollar to save another 19?” asked Joseph Cosgrove, a Pennsylvania county judge and representative of Drug Courts.
Cosgrove said drug addicts who go to jail cost the United States a lot of money — incarceration alone is “extremely costly.” Drug Courts, said Cosgrove, can both protect the public and deal with the underlying addictions. Treating addictions is the best way to bring an addict "back to society as a productive member."
"You have a generational change that you just can’t measure the cost. You've already saved on the cost of incarceration and other kinds of supervision,” said Cosgrove
“That's a good deal, that's a bargain that anybody should want to grab, and we can see that Congress is doing that.”
And if Washington is hunting for anything these days, it’s a bargain. Preferably one before August 2nd.