Democrats can’t get it together on FISA, shut down debate (MORE: HOUSE DEMS PULL FISA BILL – FOR NOW)

Brian Faughnan at The Weekly Standard has a post up on the Democrats’ latest FISA shenanigans:

Not many people are familiar with the House Rules Committee, or why it has so much power to determine what legislation passes the House. Simply put, the Committee sets the terms for debate of all significant legislation–how long a bill is debated, who may offer amendments, what amendments may be offered, etc. Before a bill goes to the House floor, the Committee meets to review amendments, hear testimony from interested parties, and discuss how to structure the floor debate.

Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter did something unusual however, in the hearing on legislation to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act–she announced at the start of the hearing that no amendments of any type would be allowed for debate. Committee Democrats followed Slaughter’s lead and voted against amendments to: authorize surveillance of those engaged in the creation of Weapons of Mass Destruction; authorize surveillance of foreign terrorists outside the United States; extend liability protection to telecommunications companies that relied on government directives and shared information deemed necessary for protection from terrorist attack; and, allow a debate on the Bush administration’s alternative.

This is a reckless way to handle national security. House Democrats have once again shut Republicans out of the debate completely (as they did just yesterday in debate on the Internet Tax Freedom Act). They’ve used their position of power to give terrorists working with WMD a ‘grace period’ while U.S. intelligence agencies go to court for permission to tap them. They’ve abused the process to preserve the fatal flaws in their own bill:

—- The Democratic bill specifically requires a court order to monitor conversations between terrorists abroad and people in the United States. So if Osama bin Laden called an al Qaeda cell in the United States, the intelligence community could not listen to the communication without a court order.

—- It imposes FISA requirements on the US military–creating a perverse situation where it’s easier to kill a suspected terrorist than monitor his calls.

—- It creates a database of U.S. citizens suspected to be terrorists–a database that must be shared across agencies and with (notoriously leaky) members of Congress and their staffs.

—- In specifically denying protection to telecommunications companies, it exposes those companies to lawsuits and creates a strong incentive for them not to cooperate with future surveillance activities.

House Democrats are shutting down debate to ram through a bill that will ensure repeats of episodes like this one, where U.S. soldiers in Iraq had to wait for hours to search for a missing comrade, while lawyers in Washington prepared a legal brief:

This is just one more reminder of how much it stinks to have the Keystone Cops in charge of the House and Senate in a time of war. These people don’t have a freaking clue.

House Republican Leader John Boehner writes on his website that the Democrats are in “disarray” over wavering moderates who are unsure as to whether or not they are going to vote for the majority’s flawed FISA bill:

Since Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and GOP leaders announced their motion-to-recommit proposal to ensure that our Intelligence Community can conduct surveillance on Osama Bin Laden, al Qaeda, or any other foreign terrorist organization targeting America for attack, Democratic leaders have been scrambling to line up votes from vulnerable Democrats to who are concerned about voting against the common-sense GOP proposal. With the House in disarray, Democratic leaders have delayed action on their bill amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The Majority’s bill says that if a foreign target operating overseas – like Osama Bin Laden – has either had contact with a U. S. person or called a U.S. number, our intelligence officials would be required to obtain a FISA court order to listen into their communications. This is unacceptable, and it jeopardizes the safety and security of the American people.

A good piece to read as the debate on this bill rages on is the Heritage Foundation’s article on modernizing FISA.

Update: Via ABC’s Political Radar:

ABC News’ Jason Ryan Reports: A controversial bill dealing with secret wiretapping was pulled from the House floor Wednesday by the Democratic leadership as a vote was about to take place. The House and Senate have been considering changes to the legislation which authorizes electronic surveillance inside the US. The Democratic leadership expects to reintroduce the bill next week.

FISA is the law that has regulated secret warrants for wiretaps that target terrorists and foreign agents, it was set up under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Democrats were concerned that Republicans would have prevailed on a technical motion that says nothing in the bill should interfere with the surveillance of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations. In a statement House Majority Leader Steney Hoyer said, “they have offered an amendment that, if passed, would have substantially delayed this important legislation — which is designed to protect the American people by proposing language already provided in the bill.”

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