The bill aims to “fix problems with surveillance laws that threaten the rights and liberties of American citizens” without crippling the government’s ability to track suspected terrorists, the lawmakers said in a joint statement.Either way, this is something that absolutely must pass.
The legislation would affect the way the US government can search Americans’ personal records, conduct wiretapping, and otherwise collect and use information on US citizens.
Among the provisions sure to grab attention, it revisits a secret program launched by former president George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks that collected sensitive information for years without a court order.
Lawmakers, including then-senator Barack Obama, voted last year to grant telecommunications firms that took part in the program immunity from lawsuits by Americans alleging illegal breaches of privacy rights.
Democratic Senator Russell Feingold, long a critic of government spy powers on Americans, was a chief author of the legislation presented Thursday.
The others included the number two Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin, as wells as Democratic Senators Jon Tester, Tom Udall, Jeff Bingaman, Daniel Akaka, Ron Wyden, and Robert Menendez, as well as Independent Senator Bernie Sanders.
While the legislation is a stand-alone bill, supporters of key provisions could also strive to include them when the Congress reauthorizes key sections of a sweeping intelligence bill called the PATRIOT Act later this year.
The question is, will Obama sign it? Putting in the PATRIOT Act will force him to do so, and put Republicans on the spot for filibustering the legislation for renewal too. It's a solid plan, but not without its risks: the Village will cry foul and the Republicans will play the "Democrats are trying to kill Americans" card until they get a permanent expansion of PATRIOT Act powers.
The second item: the Massachusetts House has approved a measure giving Gov. Deval Patrick the right to appoint a replacement for Ted Kennedy.
Of course they will, and if the shoe were on the other foot, the Democrats would be doing the same thing, let's not pretend this is anything more than political expediency here.
The passage of bill, by a 95-58 vote, was a crucial step toward filling the seat left vacant by Kennedy’s death last month, and it could carry major implications as Congress debates an overhaul of the nation’s health care system.
‘‘This bill will give us full representation today and the people of Massachusetts will have their second voice in the US Senate,’’ said state Representative Michael Moran, a Democrat from Boston and co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Election Laws. ‘‘My overriding concern is making sure the people of Massachusetts are fully represented in the US Congress.’’
The legislation now goes to the Senate, where top lawmakers believe they have enough votes for it to pass, presuming some supporters do not get cold feet. Republicans, who are vastly outnumbered by Democrats in the Legislature, vowed to use parliamentary maneuvers to stall final passage for as long as possible.
Having said that, it's the difference between 59 Democratic votes in the Senate and 60 going into the home stretch on Obamacare, the difference between a chance at a solid block of sixty Dems beating back the Party of No and passing a real health care reform bill.
In this case, raw partisanship is being matched and countered by raw partisanship. It is necessary here.
We'll see how this works out.