House Republicans Take Their Ball, Go Home In FISA Fight
from the so-THAT'S-what-a-spine-looks-like dept
It now appears all but certain that the stopgap Protect America Act, which Congress passed in August, will expire this weekend, despite dark warnings from the White House that this would create a parlous "intelligence gap" and stymie intelligence community efforts to track terrorists. House Republicans, led by Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, staged a walkout to protest Democrats' refusal to schedule an immediate vote on a bill approved in the Senate earlier this week enacting more permanent changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Unlike the RESTORE Act passed in the House back in October, the Senate bill establishes only limited checks on warrantless surveillance of communications between Americans and foreigners, and includes a provision granting retroactive amnesty to telecoms charged with illegally providing customer data to the government without a court order.
Democrats are, for a change of pace, fighting back against charges that they are soft on security issues. Contra predictions of imminent doom, many are now pointing out that the practical effect of the PAA's lapsing is likely to be quite limited, as any surveillance authorized under the law can continue unabated for another six months. And for all the administration's dire forecasts, Democrats note that it was House Republicans who voted down a further temporary extension of the PAA in the shadow of a presidential veto threat, and the Republican leader in the Senate who blocked a bicameral conference on the bill, in hopes of forcing the immediate approval of the White House–endorsed Senate bill. In a letter to President Bush today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had drawn the ire of progressives for his perceived compliance with White House demands, blasted what he characterized as the administration's "reckless attempt to manufacture a crisis over the reauthorization of foreign surveillance laws."