Sunday, March 30, 2008

Congress' Spring Break Is Over

By Carol Gee

Congress comes back into session on Monday, March 31. Pending is the 2008 authorization to fund the nation's intelligence efforts, H.R. 2082. It was vetoed by President Bush on 3/8/08. A subsequent vote to override the veto failed. The Senate is scheduled to come back into session for morning business at 2:30 PM. They then plan to take up the energy bill, H.R. 3221. The Senate Intelligence Committee will meet in closed session on Tuesday afternoon to talk about "pending calendar business."

What has been going on with amending FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (S.B. 2248 and H.R. 3773) since the Senators and Representatives left Washington? Leaders would like to say that successful negotiations have produced a bipartisan solution to the impasse, but that is not what happened. And it may be a while before the issue is again brought up before the lawmakers for a vote. FYI: side by side comparison of the Senate and House bills (3 p. pdf).

The administration mouthpieces, in the meantime, are out and about in the hinterlands. Department heads are claiming how mortally endangered the nation has become because the House wants to legislate to protect both civil liberties and national security. The Congressional Quarterly provides an excellent summary of the GOP strategy on FISA (ht to FDL). To quote:

During the break, the GOP has not issued the daily barrage of news releases . . . Instead, Republicans have focused on reaching out to publications beyond the Beltway.

“Republicans have dedicated significant time and resources in engaging regional and local media, editorial boards, and talk radio over the break,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner , R-Ohio. “We’re going to hold every Democrat accountable for their irresponsible actions on this bill, and we will ramp up the pressure until they do the right thing and pass the bipartisan Senate bill. In the end, we believe they will cave.”

Senate Democrats, though, don’t plan to return immediately to the debate, and may not act for several weeks on a lasting overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (PL 95-511).

. . . A Senate Democratic aide said that Democrats continue to talk among themselves, but the Senate is probably weeks away from taking any action. Before the break, Senate Democratic leaders said the Senate would bring the House bill to the floor at some unspecified time, although it is expected to be altered.

AG, DNI -- Attorney General Michael Mukasey spoke tearfully in San Francisco and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell spoke Friday in South Carolina ("C-SPAN coverage -- Director of Nat'l Intelligence Michael McConnell on Global Intelligence and National Security (03/28/2008)." McConnell spoke to students at Furman University, his alma mater, giving his standard canned speech (link to my previous "McConnell Primer" post), down to the story about his relationship with Colin Powell. The students were probably impressed to learn in his introduction that McConnell is "in the top ten most powerful people in the U.S., and also that he coordinates 100,000 employees in the 16 agencies over which he was placed, complete with a $49 billion budget."

For the Department of Homeland Security -- The Homeland Security's offices of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (Daniel Sutherland) and Privacy (Hugo Teufel III), spoke at the American Bar Association. Sutherland has been nominated to be the Chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, an independent agency that was formed to be a resource for both the administration and for Congress. Their presentations were not impressive. I see both men as well-meaning "booster-ish" attorneys who do a good job of coordinating their offices, have admiration for their staffs, but could very easily be marginalized by the bureaucracy of Homeland Security. The Privacy Office distributed its Annual Report to Congress for 2006-2007 at the meeting, as did the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties officer (2 large pdfs). Also available is another large pdf publication titled, "Privacy Impact Statement Guidance," to help agencies not required to produce these impact statements. In a related matter, they recently reported on C-SPAN (3/29/08) that one or both of them have "observer" status and can attend the National Security Council's secret meetings (see yesterday's post).

So it is activist time again. The House FISA bill is preferable. Let your Senators and Representatives know that retroactive immunity for telecoms is not necessary to keep the United States safe from terrorist attack.Firedoglake has the contact numbers you need.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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