Two House Committees Stand Tall Today

Good for the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. Although they didn’t turn the world around, they held firm against two very bad ideas from the White House. According to the New York Times:

Two Congressional panels today rejected President Bush’s request to renew without added restrictions his administration’s broad eavesdropping authority, and instead adopted a measure that gives federal judges greater oversight authority over foreign electronic surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency.

The bill approved by the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees was along straight party lines, just as they split to defeat the administration’s proposal. The legislation, sponsored by Representative John Conyers of Michigan and Representative Silvestre Reyes of Texas, the chairmen of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, respectively, conspicuously did not contain two provisions demanded by the White House. One would have provided retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that had helped the N.SA. to conduct eavesdropping without warrants. A second would have made the surveillance program permanent — instead, the legislation expires in two years.

Someone in Washington is finally putting their muscle where there mouth is — people and their human rights matter more than the corporate state. Needless to say, some are not amused.

Shortly before the first votes were cast in Congress this morning, President Bush appeared on the South Lawn of the White House to attack the House legislation, saying that it “would take us backward.” He asked instead for an extension of a law adopted last August, the Protect America Act, which expires in February. That measure significantly reduced the role of the foreign intelligence court and broadened the security agency’s ability to listen to foreign-based communications without court warrants.

And of course, the President could not resist singing the same old song —

“Terrorists in faraway lands are plotting and planning new ways to kill Americans,” he said. “The security of our country and the safety of our citizens depend on learning about their plans. The Protect America Act is a vital tool in stopping the terrorists, and it would be a grave mistake for Congress to weaken this tool.”

Six years is a long time to be singing the same old song. How long? Imagine that when the Beatles came out with Abbey Road in 1969, instead of what was actually on that album there were retreads of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You,” “Love Me Do,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and “I Feel Fine.”

That’s a long time.

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