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June 20, 2006

Denying Funds for Illegal Electronic Surveillance

Congressman Jay Inslee, Democrat in the 1st CD, will be introducing an Amendment to HR 5631, the DOD Appropriations Bill, this afternoon that would deny the Administration funds to conduct illegal electronic surveillance except as authorized under FISA or chapters 119 or 121 of title 18, United States Code.  Were this to pass, it would be huge.  It would say that Congress is not going to fund an illegal action.

Inslee and co-sponsors Flake (R-AZ), Inglis (R-SC), Schiff (D-CA) and Van Hollen (D-MD), are saying you can’t use tax dollars to break the law.  President Bush and his administration have to obey the law like all the rest of us. 

This Amendment would use the power of the purse to cut off the President’s illegal behavior.  This is the role of the House.  And, according to Inslee, speaking on a conference call yesterday to David Goldstein and me, if the House doesn’t make this type of surveillance of US persons illegal, “We might as well kiss off the Constitution.”

Inslee, a stanch progressive, has some unlikely bedfellows.  Former Congressman Bob Barr, now with the Liberty Coalition, has been out campaigning for this Amendment.  Inslee thinks he will have a few conservative House members with him on this vote. 

The President has argued that when Congress voted to authorize the Afghanistan and then the Iraq War, they gave him the power to do whatever it takes to “win those wars”.  Inslee says that he doesn’t think there is a single member of Congress who would agree that they were authorizing the President to do anything he wants.  It is unprecedented to allow this type of unrestricted, unrestrained executive power.  The Executive branch argues that they have the right, under Article II of the Constitution, to set aside any law.  “It is an amazing act of bravado that undercuts everything we stand for in this country”, Inslee adds.

A law that makes it illegal not to follow the law?  That’s what we asked Inslee in the call.  Yes.  If the law were to pass, it would mean that neither the NSA nor any agency of the government would be able to use any federal funds for it. The full resources of the professional bureaucracy would be deployed to detect and prevent that.  This is how you get oversight and stop an out-of-control President.   

If you vote against this Amendment, you are voting against the rule of law. That is the message that needs to go to our Congressfolk.  We will be watching you.  And, when we get control of the House, we can do some oversight. Inslee cites last year’s Amendment to HR 3199, the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, which did permit libraries and booksellers to challenge the legality of orders to comply with Homeland Security Department search requests as a reason to be hopeful that this Amendment too might pass.

I think it's a long shot that it will pass but I think it's wonderful to get them on record one way or another.  This post is up on DailyKos as well. 

UPDATE: The Amendment failed in the House by a close margin - 207-219.  A sad commentary on the state of our country.  Also, final sponsors of the Amendment were, in addition to Jay Inslee, Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

From a Press Release from Inslee's office:

"It's bad enough that congressional leaders have abrogated oversight responsibility, but this is a new low," said Inslee.  "Now they've actually given their blessing to spend federal funds on illegal spying."

It's been reported that in the wake of Sept. 11, the president secretly authorized the NSA to listen in on international communications involving people in the United States without court-approved warrants.  FISA, however, only allows exceptions in the 15 days after Congress declares war, and for up to 72 hours after electronic surveillance has been initiated.

"This would have ensured that we assertively and aggressively track terrorists the American way - by following the law," lamented Inslee.  "It should have been a no-brainer."

Posted by Lynn Allen on June 20, 2006 at 11:07 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink

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