Boehner fighting NSA bill
How much power does the Speaker of the House have? He can stop a bill from coming to the floor despite the fact that it has the support of a clear majority of members on both sides.
House Republican leaders are under pressure to allow a vote on legislation that would curb the National Security Agency (NSA).
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has defended the NSA's spying programs, but a growing bloc of his conference is signing on to a bill that would end the NSA's practice of collecting records on virtually all U.S. phone calls, which was revealed in leaks by Edward Snowden.
One House Democratic aide argued that the Republican leaders are boxed in. If they don't allow a vote on standalone NSA reform legislation, the aide said, members will demand NSA-related amendments to must-pass legislation like the defense and intelligence authorization bills.
"They're stuck. They would deal with this in the way they deal with a lot of things -- by just not moving the legislation," the Democratic aide said. "Except how are they going to get other important pieces of legislation that they want to move unless they move this first?"
A GOP leadership aide acknowledged that there is "significant member interest in this issue as well as multiple committees with jurisdiction."
"Leadership is working to ensure that there is a well-coordinated process with all interested parties going forward," the leadership aide said in a statement.
House GOP leaders allowed a vote in July on an amendment from Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would have ended the NSA's phone data program. Despite opposition from party leaders and intense lobbying by the White House, the vote was surprisingly close -- failing to pass by just seven votes.
As speaker, Boehner usually doesn't cast a vote, but he broke the tradition to vote against the Amash amendment.
"There are, in my view, ample safeguards to protect the privacy of the American people," Boehner said after the vote. "And I know how these programs have worked. I know how they've worked to protect the American people, and I felt very strongly about it."
But he argued that the vote was an example of his belief that the House should be able to "work its will."
The bill - The USA Freedom Act - has its flaws and even supporters would like to see some amendments to narrow the scope of the ban. Judiciary chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte will probably work on a similar bill with fewer restrictions on the NSA:
"Chairman Goodlatte is committed to working with members of the House Judiciary Committee, House leaders, and other members of Congress to ensure our nation's intelligence collection programs include real protections for Americans' civil liberties, robust oversight, and additional transparency, while maintaining a workable legal framework for national security officials to keep our country safe from foreign enemies," the aide said.
I hope that Congress has learned at least one lesson from the Snowden revelations; no matter how good protections look on paper, there's always someone who finds a way to circumvent them. You're never going to get iron clad civil liberties protection. But you can do a lot better than we're currently doing in keeping the spooks out of our business.