By Mitch Gurney
June 5, 2011
For the really big issues, like government surveillance over its citizens and wars, don’t buy in on the partisan bickering between the Democrats and Republicans, for the most part it is all just theater. When it comes to critical policy matters the parties are not as far apart as it appears and often rumble in the sack together.
Sure they put on a glittery show of division over global warming, birth certificates, abortion, raising the debt ceiling, deficit spending, and a zillion other matters, some rather trivial. And frequently turn passing legislation into one painful, lengthy circus. But here are a few recent examples plus one not so recent that demonstrate that when it serves some greater agenda they know how to get the job done and fast.
This one is a big issue, The Patriot Act. OpenCongress.org reported recently, PATRIOT Act Extension Get Bipartisan Love in Senate:
If you want to break the partisan divide and get Democrats and Republicans in Congress to agree on something, just give them a bill that makes it easier for the government to spy on U.S. citizens without judicial oversight. Yesterday, the Senate voted 74-8, with 18 senators abstaining, in favor of moving forward with legislation to extend three of the most controversial PATRIOT Act surveillance powers for four more years, without any modifications. By contrast, the Senate has had to pull a small business jobs bill and two of Obama’s judicial nominees from the floor after the Republicans mounted successful filibusters.
First enacted in 2001, the Act is set for reauthorization every four years. While it passed quickly under the panic that gripped the nation following 9/11 each time it has required reauthorization it has done so in a similar speedy manner. During this latest extension it did encounter more resistance by some Congressional members then previously, but just before the midnight deadline on May 26, 2011 President Obama signed a 4-year extension of three key provisions in the USA Patriot Act. Obama was in France at the time and signed the extension by automatic pen just in the nick of time. Rather efficient for a government most of us think is unable to work its way out of a water paper bag.
The name “Patriot” for this Act is quite deceiving unless you consider government with surveillance powers over its citizens without judicial oversight patriotic. As most recall The Act was quickly put into place following 9/11 and vastly expanded government surveillance powers and authority. The speed in which the legislation passed through Congress to become law was astounding and a bit of a rarity. It was signed into law by President Bush on October 26, 2001, 44 days following the attack. The bill was introduced to the House as H.R 3162 by Republican Representative Frank James Sensenbrenner Jr. on October 23, 2001. The Act per Wikipedia:
The Act dramatically reduced restrictions on law enforcement agencies’ ability to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records; eased restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States; expanded the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities; and broadened the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts. The act also expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism, thus enlarging the number of activities to which the USA PATRIOT Act’s expanded law enforcement powers can be applied.
Representative Sensenbrenner Jr did not author the original legislation. The primary author was Assistant Attorney General of the United States Viet D.Dinh. The bill was introduced on October 23 and cleared through 8 committees in a single day. Wow. By 7:15 pm that evening Sensenbrenner moved to suspend the rules and pass the bill. The House debated for one hour and following various procedures voted and passed it the following morning on October 24th at 11:07 am, 357 Yeas to 66 Nays. It was received by the Senate that day and read twice. On October 25th the Senate passed it, 98 Yeas – 1 Nay. (Former Senator Feingold was the only Senator to vote against it). The Legislation was sent to President Bush later that day and on October 26th he signed it into law, becoming Public Law No: 107-56. 3 days from introduction to Public Law. As most probably know for Congressional action this was a remarkable turnaround, that bill went through Congress faster than crap goes through a goose.
Sensenbrenner a Republican Representative for the 5th District of Wisconsin is a real peach. He’s responsible for the Real ID Act in 2005. He attached that controversial act as a rider on military spending bill H.R 418. Subsequently, it was passed by the Senate without debate. The passage of the Act received little exposure in the mass media. He introduced the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, which made sweeping changes to American bankruptcy laws, affecting both consumer and business bankruptcies. Many of the bill’s provisions were explicitly designed to make it “more difficult for people to file for bankruptcy” in order to curb abuse. Bush signed this Act into law in April 2005. Was it just consequential this Act passed just a couple of years before the financial collapse, massive foreclosures, and our current recession? Credit Card companies had spent over $100 million over 8 years to get this passed. Sensenbrenner believes in criminal prosecution of broadcasters and cable operators who violate decency standards as opposed to the current FCC regulatory methods. He voted against a bill to provide $50 billion in emergency aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina. The bill however passed and was signed into law by President Bush. There’s plenty more about this character but this shall do for now as it sidetracks from my original topic. Check out the links for more detail.
Returning to my original subject, here are additional examples illustrating the collusion powers of the two parties when policy dictates:
The House Republican leadership is worried that Congress might stand up to the Obama Administration and assert its constitutional prerogative as the only branch of government that can declare war. The House was scheduled to vote this afternoon on a privileged resolution from Rep. Dennis Kucinich [D, OH-10] directing the President, pursuant to the War Powers Act, to remove U.S. armed forces from Libya. But the House leadership has pulled it from the floor because, according to Republican aides who spoke with Fox News, “it became clear that it might succeed.”
Under the War Powers Act of 1973, if a President authorizes military action without approval from Congress, they must terminate the action within 60 days unless they get specific approval from Congress, or unless there is a national emergency due to an attack on the U.S. In the case of Libya, the 60-day period has come and gone without any action from Congress, yet, in a direct violation of the law, U.S. military involvement in Libya continues. In fact, it has now been extended for another 90 days.
So what does the GOP’s leadership offer as a solution?
Yesterday, House Republican leadership pulled Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s [D, OH-10] resolution forcing an end to U.S. involvement in Libya from the floor after it became clear that it may have actually passed. The Republicans either don’t want to give Kucinich a win, or they don’t actually want to get in the way of the expansion of presidential war authority. They do, however, want to take the opportunity to embarrass Obama. And they want to at least appear to defend Congress’ constitutional role as the sole war-declaring power. So they’re in a bit of a pickle.
UPDATE: Looks like they may not even go with this disapproval resolution. Leadership is drafting an approval resolution and will no doubt be twisting arms heavy to get it passed.
I wonder what Obama’s pay back will be to thank the GOP for intervening and thwarting that resolution?
So you see these guys can get a job done…when they really want to.