Democrat leaders in the House and Senate are invoking the threat of “Big Brother” in an attempt to undo the changes Congress made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) before leaving for August recess.
The modifications, which will expire in just six months, patched the so-called “terrorist loophole” in FISA that was hampering the intelligence community’s collection of information on terrorists in foreign countries. Intelligence agencies were spending critical time seeking court approval for surveillance of foreign persons outside the United States due to outdated provisions in FISA.
Because the new law is only a temporary fix, the Bush Administration could face a steep hurdle to make it permanent. Many of the moderate or Blue Dog Democrats who supported the changes will face pressure from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) when it comes to the floor next time.
Pelosi has already directed Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D.-Mich.) and Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D.-Tex.) to draft a new version before the law expires. “Many provisions of this legislation are unacceptable, and, although the bill has a six month sunset clause, I do not believe the American people will want to wait that long before corrective action is taken,” she wrote in an Aug. 4 letter, shortly after the House vote.
Armed with fresh evidence that al Qaeda and other terrorists still pose a significant threat to the United States, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell oversaw an intense lobbying effort in the days before Congress adjourned that convinced enough Democrats to support the revisions. Pelosi and Reid, who promised to act on FISA before the August recess, had no choice but to accept the result when their alternatives failed.
Forty-one House Democrats backed the Republican-drafted legislation, which passed 227-183. Reid lost 16 Democrats in the Senate, including two, Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.), who face potentially tough re-election fights in 2008. Also among the 16 were four Senate newcomers: Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Jim Webb (Va.). The Senate bill passed on a 60-28 vote.