Revised Senate Freedom Act Bill Could Be DOA In The House

Democrats blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for not doing a better job of handling Sen. Rand Paul, his home-state Republican ally whose opposition to the Patriot Act is a central part of his presidential campaign.

Amid the GOP infighting, McConnell and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) sought to regain their footing and save face after their previous rejection of the USA Freedom Act.

Senate Republicans came under growing pressure on Monday to restore just-expired parts of the Patriot Act as soon as possible.

The White House and House Republicans both piled on, scolding the Senate GOP for not quickly passing the USA Freedom Act, a bill reforming the National Security Agency’s spying programs that was overwhelmingly approved by the House.

The NSA’s phone data collection program went dark on Monday after the Senate approved neither the House bill nor a short-term extension of the NSA’s existing authority.

The White House argued the lapse is a danger to national security, something House Republicans echoed.

A big vote in the Senate will take place today on several amendments to the House bill — including language that would extend the amount of time the NSA has to give up its phone records program from six months to a year.

McConnell on Monday defended his amendments to the legislation, which would renew the Patriot Act provisions while also ending the NSA’s bulk collection of U.S. phone records.

Meeting with press on Monday the Senate Majority Leader was hopeful.

“These fixes are common-sense,” McConnell said. “And whatever one thinks of the proposed new system, there needs to be a basic assurance that it will function as its proponents say it will.”

But McConnell’s move comes with some risk.

Changes in the Senate bill would send it back to the House, where lawmakers warned they would reject the upper chamber’s demands. That could lead to a longer lapse of the NSA powers, which could open Senate Republicans up to more criticism.

Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner both support the three U.S. spy programs that expired Monday, they’ve been at odds over ending the National Security Agency’s collection of bulk telephone data. And Mr. McConnell was unable to corral fellow Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, whose opposition forced the programs to lapse.

Democrats seized on the issue as the latest example of McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, being out of sync, even though they hold the majority in both chambers.

“Clearly, there was no communication between Boehner and McConnell, and they failed to take into account that there were a substantial number of Republicans who disagreed with their leader on this issue,” Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, said as he made the rounds on the Sunday network talk shows.

Speaker Boehner, meanwhile, is calling for the Senate to clear the House bill — which passed 338-88 on May 13 — for President Obama’s signature. House Republican leaders haven’t said whether they would accept the changes that the Senate is considering.

Four other House members — two Republicans and two Democrats — said in a joint statement that their chamber is unlikely to back Mr. McConnell’s proposed changes, and that the Senate should pass the House bill unchanged.

“These amendments only serve to weaken the House-passed bill” and make it more likely that the spy provisions won’t be revived, they said. Issuing the statement were House Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.;Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat; and Judiciary panel members Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.

The NSA is now prohibited from collecting and storing millions of phone records on Americans who aren’t suspected of having links to terrorism. Even when the Senate acts, the NSA likely will have some of its powers curbed. The House bill would prohibit the NSA from collecting bulk records while renewing the three provisions of the USA Patriot Act that expired Monday. Those measures let investigators seize targeted phone, hotel and banking records of suspected terrorists and spies; use roving wiretaps; and use tools to search for lone-wolf terrorists not connected to an organization.

Other government surveillance methods under the Patriot Act are continuing unchanged.





Jim Williams is the Washington Bureau Chief, Digital Director as well as the Director of Special Projects for Genesis Communications. He is starting his third year as part of the team. This is Williams 40th year in the media business, and in that time he has served in a number of capacities. He is a seven time Emmy Award winning television producer, director, writer and executive. He has developed four regional sports networks, directed over 2,000 live sporting events including basketball, football, baseball hockey, soccer and even polo to name a few sports. Major events include three Olympic Games, two World Cups, two World Series, six NBA Playoffs, four Stanley Cup Playoffs, four NCAA Men’s National Basketball Championship Tournaments (March Madness), two Super Bowl and over a dozen college bowl games. On the entertainment side Williams was involved s and directed over 500 concerts for Showtime, Pay Per View and MTV Networks.