In case you hadn't already heard, last week a Congressional coalition of civil liberty-loving lefties and libertarian-leaning righties joined together to try and curb the NSA. The effort came via an amendment to a defense appropriations bill and was dubbed the Amash-Conyers amendment for its sponsors, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). It would have stopped the funding to NSA programs that spy on Americans who are not involved in terrorist investigations. The debate on the House floor itself is worth a watch, the two sides trading barbs as fast as all those hilarious British members of Parliament we hear about. The scene was reminiscent of such American classics as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and for the hardcore political nerds, it was damn near boner-inducing.
On one side of the aisle, we had establishment House members arguing fiercely against the amendment, under pressure from the White House and intelligence agencies to defeat it. Led by Amash's rival, fellow Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, this contingent evoked memories of 9/11, saying the controversial NSA programs had stopped at least 54 potential terror plots and saved thousands of lives. Of course, these Congressmen knew about the "benefits" of NSA spying thanks to classified briefings held by the agency's leaders and other concerted lobbying efforts. You know, classified stuff that regular Americans aren't allowed to know about, like programs where they get secretly spied on.
As several have noted since then, 9/11 no longer justifies why the NSA needs metadata on all Americans, and terror plots are stopped just as effectively by vigilant citizens in Times Square. The New York Times called the arguments in favor of the NSA's programs "remarkably thin" and even "laughable." Fittingly, the most "elegant" argument in favor of the NSA came from former whacky presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, who explained her point with the analogy of envelopes in the mail. However, Bachmann has also said plenty of insane shit, so we should all take everything she says with a huge grain of salt. Overall, Amash addressed most of the amendment's criticisms on his website.
On the other side, Amash and Conyers brought forth a slew of Republicans and Democrats who praised the amendment, one even being the principal author of the Patriot Act himself, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). Jared Polis (D-CO) rose and said, "The right thing to do is to show some contrition. Let's pass this amendment." Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) took 15 seconds to read the Fourth Amendment. It was beautiful. Congress was split down a bipartisan middle like never before. On one side, those who protected the NSA, the executive branch and their controversial spying programs. On the other, a group of Congressmen from all over the country who felt the NSA and administration had gone too far.
Later in the week, this coalition got some criticism from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who said, "this strain of libertarianism that's going through both parties right now" is "a very dangerous thought." Wow. Isn't that nice that Christie is now the thought police? What a deplorable thing to say. Cheeseburgers and treadmills are more dangerous to Chris Christie than strains of libertarianism. As a Rand Paul aide shot back, it's time for Christie to "talk to more Americans" and get a clue, which of course has only escalated the rift in the GOP. Still, everyone from The National Journal to Slate has noted there is a fierce desire in both parties to curb the surveillance state after years of watching helplessly from the sidelines. As many other news outlets have said, Amash and his cohorts may have lost the battle, but the war is far from over. From warrantless wiretapping to the TSA's lovely patdowns, Americans are tired of having their rights usurped. Just because the government wants to protect us from terrorists doesn't mean they should treat us like them.
In the end, the amendment failed 205-217 -- a margin of only 12 votes. The Congress is evenly divided between representatives who listen to their constituents and share their concerns about the NSA's programs, and Congressmen -- including both House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) -- who unquestionably side with the White House and intelligence agencies. It would behoove you to check this list and see where your Congressman stands. If they voted for the amendment, give them a call and thank them for protecting your right to privacy. If they voted against it, give them a call to find out why. I know my Congresswoman, Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH), decided not to vote at all (one of a dozen who didn't) and I can't wait to hear her excuse.
Also, if you have time, please visit Congressman Amash's official House page, his Facebook page or his Twitter account and thank him for leading this bipartisan effort. If nothing else, he's put himself out there as a leader on this issue in the House, and rest assured, the NSA will be paying more attention to his emails in the future.