FISA Amendment Pits Rule of Bush vs. Rule of Law

05/25/2011 11:55 am ET

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the rule of law today, and call me a cynic, but I'm guessing the rule of law will fail.

Reps. Jay Inslee (D-WA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Bob Inglis (R-SC) will offer the following one-sentence amendment to the pending Defense Appropriations bill (H.R.5631):

None of the funds made available in this Act may be expended to conduct electronic surveillance (as defined in section 101(f) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1801(f)) of any United States person (as defined in section 101(i) of such Act (50 U.S.C. 1801(i)) in contravention of the provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

This should be one of those "duh-uh" votes -- an amendment so simple in both language and intent that even a congressman can understand it -- for all it does is merely prohibit expending funds on surveillance activities that are already prohibited by law. Well, um... duh-uh.

So I'm not sure what is more ironic (or frightening): that such an amendment is even necessary, or that a majority of Republicans will likely vote against it?

Relying on an extreme version of the unitary executive doctrine and certain undefined wartime powers, the President and his men have chosen to interpret FISA and other laws as they see fit. With the Republican-controlled Congress lacking the will or the balls to fulfill its constitutionally mandated role as a coequal branch of government, the only Congressional power not left up to Presidential interpretation is the power of the purse.

That is the power the amendment's bipartisan sponsors seek to exercise here, and it is hard to understand how their colleagues can possibly argue against it. Don't appropriate money for illegal activities! What's so controversial about that?

Of course our vaunted checks and balances have long since collapsed under a Republican leadership that values party loyalty over that to the Constitution, and seems to ignore the possibility that the next imperial President could be a Democrat. Still, Rep. Inslee -- the amendment's lead sponsor -- remains hopeful that the amendment will pass and the rule of law will prevail. For if we don't do something to rein in this "radical and dangerous" expansion of presidential power he said, "we might as well kiss off Democracy."

Pucker up, America.