Patriot Act Drama in the Senate

Brian Darling
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Posted: May 20, 2015 10:54 AM
Patriot Act Drama in the Senate

It is my birthday today.

I only want a few presents for my birthday.

First, I want the government to stop issuing General Warrants so they can’t look at whom I call and for how long.

Next, I would like the battle of Kentucky raging right now between Senators Rand Paul versus Mitch McConnell to result in a big win for Rand Paul and the Bill of Rights.

Finally, I would like an America where all citizens are treated as free people, not as possible terrorist threats.

Is that too much to ask?

Right now, expiring authorities that allow the federal government to spy on American citizens calling patterns is being debated in the United States Senate. The Senate right now has three options: Extend the expiring provisions of the so-called PATRIOT Act, pass a scaled back version with protections for civil liberties that has passed the House titled the USA Freedom Act, or let the law expire. One of these things will happen in the next few days.

Three expiring provisions, including the controversial Section 215, of the PATRIOT Act will end at midnight on May 31. The House passed USA Freedom Act on May 13, 2015, on a 338-88 vote extends some monitoring programs, but ends bulk collection of phone records. That bill is sitting on the Senate calendar and could be sent directly to the President if it passes the Senate this week.

The Senate is also poised to consider a McConnell-Burr clean extension of the expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act for five years. That bill is running into trouble because it has to pass the House before being sent to the President, even though House leaders have expressed no intention of taking it up. It is unlikely that a clean 5-year extension can pass the House unchanged.

In addition, Senators Rand Paul and Ron Wyden (D-OR) are leading the charge to block the McConnell clean reauthorization bill. This could get interesting.

Politico reported yesterday “McConnell said Tuesday he plans to put the House-passed USA Freedom Act on the Senate floor later this week — a move that could show it can’t pass the Senate. But in a closed-door party lunch Tuesday, McConnell made clear his preference for a two-month extension of the current law.” McConnell is pushing a clean extension, but will settle for a short-term extension to get members a little bit pregnant on continuing President Obama’s illegal and unconstitutional spying program.

The House is scheduled to leave very soon. The Senate is expected to be in session into the weekend because of the filibuster staged by Sens. Paul and Wyden. This puts all the power in the hands of Paul and Wyden, because the House is not going to be around to pass anything.

Another problem is an opinion issued by the Congressional Research Service that argues that the McConnell-Burr bill is drafted in a way that it is ineffective unless if it is signed by the President by the end of this month at midnight. In other words, McConnell and Burr drafted the bill incorrectly and may have made a critical mistake in this debate leading the pro-NSA Spying supporters into a Box Canyon of defeat on a clean 5-year extension.

According to the National Journal, “most Democrats are expected to vote in support of the White House-backed Freedom Act, a version of which earned 58 votes in the upper chamber in November. At the time, Sen. Bill Nelson cast the lone Democratic ‘no’ vote, while McConnell whipped his Republican caucus against the measure.” If McConnell makes this the first vote and 43 Democrats vote for it, there would have to be 17 more Republicans to get cloture. The Republicans who voted to end debate on the motion to proceed to USA Freedom in Lame Duck 2014 were only four (Cruz, Heller Lee and Murkowski).

Even though this measure passed the House with overwhelming support, the Senate does not seem to be as responsive to the will of the spied on American people.

The next expected Senate vote that would be a clean reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act for 5 years. That can’t pass the House and the House will not even be around to debate if later this week.

The expected resolution is a 2-month extension of authority for President Obama to spy while the Congress figures out a way to pass some version that includes elements of USA Freedom.

You don’t have to support Rand Paul for President to stand with him on this issue. You don’t even have to support Senator Paul’s libertarianish politics to support his tireless fight to defend the Bill of Rights. Go get ‘em Rand!