Congress to Vote on NSA Spying

Congress to Vote on NSA Spying

The House is considering the Defense Appropriations bill and conservatives in the House are insisting on votes dealing with National Security Agency (NSA) spying, aid to the military government in Egypt, and aid to Syrian opposition groups.

According to Politico, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) promised to lead a fight to take down a House rule on considering the bill if “votes were not permitted on a bipartisan proposal to narrow the ability of the NSA to collect private call records and metadata on telephone customers in the U.S.”   House Republicans have the ability to defeat the rule setting up consideration of legislation if they can muster enough votes to stop the passage of the rule that authorizes the House to consider legislation with certain amendments being allowed a vote of the full House.  

Most times this rule vote is a party line vote, and if enough Republicans promise to vote with Democrats, they can leverage a vote on important issues. It appears that the House Leadership will allow votes on a number of controversial amendments as a result of the threat by House conservatives.   

The NSA has come under considerable fire because of the revelations broken by The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald last month from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that the NSA was authorized to collect “vast amounts of records detailing the email and internet usage of Americans.”  That disclosure has caused a national debate on whether the 4th Amendment to the Constitution is being violated by the Obama Administration.

The Amash Amendment states the following: 

None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to execute a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order pursuant to section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1861) that does not include the following sentence: ”This Order limits the collection of any tangible things (including telephone numbers dialed, telephone numbers of incoming calls, and the duration of calls) that may be authorized to be collected pursuant to this Order to those tangible things that pertain to a person who is the subject of an investigation described in section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1861). 

A senior House staffer tells Breitbart News that “the Amash Amendment shuts down the NSA’s blanket collection of Americans’ telephone records.  It is the only amendment to the Department of Defense appropriations bill that reins in NSA.”  The staffer pointed out that this will be “the first time that members of the Senate or House will be put on the record on NSA’s surveillance program.”  This is expected to be a vote to see where the House Republicans and Democrats are put on record on the issue of limiting the authority of the NSA to spy on American citizens.

Two other amendments filed that are causing controversy are one by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) that would prevent US funds to “military operations in Egypt” nor “individuals, groups, or organizations engaged in paramilitary activity … in Egypt.”  And another amendment by Rep. Trey Radel (R-Florida) that would prevent U.S. troops “into hostilities in Syria, into situations in Syria where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, or into Syrian territory, airspace, or waters while equipped for combat” in contravention of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1541).

Libertarian minded conservatives in the House are pushing back against some of the policies that have proven unpopular with the American people.  A recent poll by Gallup, as reported by the Washington Post, indicates that Republicans “hate NSA spying.” Yet there are Republicans in the House and Senate who are defending the Obama Administration’s continued trampling of the privacy rights of all Americans.  Also, a war weary American public is ready to cut back on foreign aid to countries that burn the American flag and support “Islamic fighters in Syria.”

It will be interesting to see whether the Republican caucus will start listening to the American people, who want to limit the powers of the federal government to spy on citizens and to start wars without the consent of Congress.