While the nation debated the issues surrounding either biker gangs in Texas or the Duggars and their molestation scandal, something that actually might affect you and I was happening. It happened in broad daylight. In fact, it was on national TV in full color shown live. Yet most Americans chose to be more enraptured with sex and killer bikers.
Of course, we are talking about the Patriot Act. A piece of colossal legislation that a fearful Congress pushed through after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Every so often certain key provisions come up for re authorization votes. Most of the time they go through without a hitch. Most of the time most people don’t even notice, even “politically engaged” ones.
Usually while Congress is busy debating the Patriot Act before doing it’s rubber stamp move of approving it, Americans are more distracted by things like Kardashians and other fluff. But this time, the rubber stamp on the act didn’t happen. Because of this, and the recess, there is actually a very good chance the Patriot Act could expire and we will for the first time since 2001 be without that behemoth of a disaster hanging over us as the law of the land.
Most of the drama happened last night in the Senate.
It began with a vote down of the “compromise legislation” that would replace the key piece of the legislation that is at the center of all the controversy, Section 215, the phone data collection part. The Senate attempted to bring cloture and bring the bill up for a vote where it had a good chance of passing. Even Ted Cruz was on board for cloture.
But the vote failed despite some GOP support joining the Democratic Party along with Independent Senators King and Sanders. The vote was 57-42 with one not voting.
This is where things got really interesting.
From there, the Senate attempted to extend the original Patriot Act provision for several periods, down to just one day past the deadline. Each one was met with objection and failed. Objections came from both sides of the aisle including ones from Senator Wyden and Rand Paul. This was reminiscent of when Rand’s father Ron Paul used to team up with liberals like Dennis Kucinich on various civil liberty issues. Neither man had to endorse the other on anything else, but reached across the aisle on the issues they could agree on. Even tho sometimes they agreed on the issue but for totally different reasons.
That is how actual governance works versus campaign rhetoric and indeed sometimes the bedfellows are strange.
Now the Senate has it’s back against the wall, as do the supporters of big brother style government. The Senate will have exactly 8 hours on May 31st to either pass the American Freedom Act or extend the Patriot Act. If neither happens, then the US will be without “post 9/11 surveillance for the 1st time since late 2001. Doing nothing could indeed be the real “freedom act(ion).”
In addition to the controversial section 215, there are a few other things that will go away as well. FBI Director James Comeywarned that a sunset would “severely” affect his agency. The FBI relies heavily on the soon-to-expire provisions of the law to obtain specific business records — from library records to gun ownership data — and wiretaps for multiple devices, he said.
‘If I lose these tools, it’s a huge, huge problem. We use [Section 215 to obtain specific records] fewer than 200 times per year, but when we use it, it matters tremendously.
Others disagree. As Politico reported in the same article;
Others, though, suggest the sky won’t fall and point to previous admissions from the intelligence community that the telephone metadata program has not been essential in preventing any terrorist attacks.
For existing investigations, I don’t think a sunset will make a major operational difference at least in the short term,” said Harley Geiger, a senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology who has written about the consequences of letting Section 215 expire.
Others agree that a sunset is preferable to allowing the Act to continue on any longer;
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the House bill that reforms the surveillance programs, the USA Freedom Act, said in an interview earlier this week. It’s fine with me. I’d rather they pass the USA Freedom Act, but I can live with sunsetting.
If sunset does occur, that should only INCREASE the probability of the compromise bill passing. Why? Because there won’t be a Patriot Act to fall back on, as there has been. As it stands now, they are only 3 votes away and if one looks down the list, there are plenty of names that pop out on the “nay” list that one would reasonably expect them to go with a compromise bill rather than give up all their toys.
As a bonus, when the USA Freedom Act comes up again, expect the Senators to make real sure the bill is done right. Some of those measures that some have found questionable or watered down I would expect to be revisited and replaced with more pragmatic and palatable alternatives.
Maybe the compromise legislation doesn’t pass. I have a feeling many would be at least as good with that as Representative Nadler would be.
So this week instead of getting caught up in something shiny and fluffy, maybe think about finally losing one of the worst pieces of legislation ever – for good. Spread the word on social media, call a Senator’s office and let them know how you feel or do something to raise the awareness. then just maybe we can get this done.
Then it’s on to Citizens United.
Check out the debate that preceded the vote from last night. It was actually a pretty good example of how our debates are supposed to work. Notice party lines aren’t the only things determining who’s side each is on.
Featured image via screen capture from cspan.org