The House will allow the current FISA legislation to lapse rather than address the differences between the their version of the extension and the one passed by the Senate on Tuesday. Democrats wanted yet another three-week extension to kick the can down the road again, and petulantly dropped consideration when both opponents and advocates of the Senate plan refused to agree. Now they’re saying the lapse in the FISA legislation will have no effect — as long as no new terrorist groups arise (via Memeorandum):
Democrats insisted that a lapse would have no real effect.
The expiration of the powers “doesn’t mean we are somehow vulnerable again,” said Representative Silvestre Reyes, Democrat of Texas and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
The lapsing of the deadline would have little practical effect on intelligence gathering. Intelligence officials would be able to intercept communications from Qaeda members or other identified terrorist groups for a year after the initial eavesdropping authorization for that particular group.
If a new terrorist group is identified after Saturday, intelligence officials would not be able to use the broadened eavesdropping authority. They would be able to seek a warrant under the more restrictive standards in place for three decades through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
It would have a greater effect than that. They would have to revert to the old language about American switches, which means that foreign-to-foreign intercepts attained through telecom equipment in the US would have to have warrants as well. That decision by the FISA court precipitated the original FISA reform language, in which the Democrats put the sunset rule that has now been extended numerous times while Congress gets its act together.
As for the notion that somehow nothing will change because we can still track all of the existing groups in the same way we have (which is not true anyway), all that does is encourage terrorists to form new groups to exploit a very, very stupid loophole. What if al-Qaeda just splinters into completely new groups? Why not reorganize so that none of the existing groups technically exist after Saturday, forcing the NSA to waste time on new findings for each of the new groups?
Congress has played around with this long enough. The Democrats saw fit to limit the last legislation; they now have a Senate bill with plenty of time for perusal, analysis, and debate. We’ve been debating this for months, and now it’s time to take the vote and get it done. If the Democrats would rather play games than protect the United States from terrorists, then they can pay the price for that in November, while the rest of us hope we don’t pay a much higher price for it before then.
UPDATE: Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy:
This is a game of roulette with our national security, spearheaded by the Democratic leadership in the House, which is following the lead of the party’s two presidential contenders, Sens. Obama and Clinton. Both of them voted against the emergency authorization last summer, and Obama voted against the Senate bill on Tuesday (Clinton did not bother to vote). Make no mistake. The MoveOn.org crowd is calling the shots on that side of the aisle.
President Bush has to keep pounding this, as does Sen. McCain. This is not politics, folks. For grown-ups, this is life and death.
Michelle Malkin reminds us to use our voices by calling Senators at 202-224-3121. It might be better to call Representatives at the same number.