Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Extension of US PATRIOT Teabaggers?

Things seemed to have backfired for House Republicans...

I have been a vocal critic of the TEA Party.  I put that out there right away, because I dislike it when bloggers and journalists spin reports that praise folks when they do things that they agree with, and pretend that they were always on board with said folks.  I think that as an Astroturf movement, that the TEA Party is a disingenuous sort of "movement" that manipulates real fears to political advantage for a GOP establishment, but the vote to block US PATRIOT shows chinks in the discipline of the House Republican majority, and illustrates a divide that could be the undoing of a great deal or maneuvering to capitalize on populism.

26 members of the House Republican caucus crossed party lines to stand against renewal of three key provisions of US PATRIOT.  The authority to issue roving wiretaps, the library records which gives the FBI access to search records, and the "lone wolf" provision that gives authority to investigate anyone outside the country, even if they have no known ties with terrorist organizations, were defeated in a 277 to 148 vote.  Defeated, because of the special expedited procedure that the House leadership wanted to push through, which required a 2/3rds majority.  In wrangling to speed up the process, the House leadership handed itself a defeat of provisions that they've argued are necessary to security of the nation.

David Schweikert of Arizona, Tom Graves of Georgia, Raul Labrador of Idaho, Randy Hultgren and Bobby Schilling of Illinois, Justin Amash of Michigan, Christopher Gibson of New York and Michael Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania were among those who stepped across the aisle to oppose the move.  Representative Dennis Kucinich wrangled the move, and can be credited for giving impetus for the TEA Party freshmen to put their votes where their mouths have been, in opposing "Big Government" and intrusion into privacy.

Mind you, this certainly doesn't defeat the extension of US PATRIOT by any means.  The White House has asked for the extension as a tool against terrorism, and the Senate has expressed the desire to make these provisions permanent.  The House can reintroduce the measures and take a straight vote, albeit somewhat longer in process, and it will pass.  The Senate version is likely to pass as well, and while Eric Holder has assured the Senate that it is instituting measures suggested to assure oversight to prevent civil liberty violations already, this is somewhat cold comfort.

The real story is less about the extension of US PATRIOT though.  The tools to fight terrorism that were shoehorned into US PATRIOT during the last administration were resoundingly approved by the House and Senate in their votes, and include a laundry list of powers that intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been asking for years for.  On the surface, they appear to be tools that can help root out those who exploit our systems that require due process or who simply fall off the radar from investigations.  The problem being that the potential for abuse under peace time considerations with the somewhat vague threat profiles and open language throw a wide net that a less than scrupulous Administration could use to ferret out undesirables.  These issues remain, and will continue to be issues when the House reorders itself to bring these provisions to a regular House vote.  What this does illustrate are divides that the new freshmen have with the House leadership, and where they have the potential to be a thorn in the side of the Republican leadership on issues where the GOP's support of the TEA Party by funneling cash to their "movement" may have unintended consequences, in having freshmen Congresscritters see a vulnerable establishment being liable to support the ideals and positions that they've advocated, yet voted against time after time.

The vote itself is more of a show to delay.  In the long run, US PATRIOT will be renewed, and this is largely a symbolic gesture.  One that freshmen Representatives can point to later on, and perhaps craft their positions from.  Scott Brown of Massachusetts has angered his TEA Party supporters by his own votes, which run counter to the vocal position that many support.  This vote, while symbolic, illustrates that there is potential for the TEA Party movement to become its own creature, as opposed to a vehicle for the same policies that the AEI and their Fellows have been advocating for some time, and have backpedalled from publicly only recently.

To be sure, I am not convinced that the TEA Party is terribly good for US policy, both domestic and foreign, and the movement has yet to spawn anything like sane fiscal policy, both at the state or Federal level, but as the freshmen navigate this session, there are signs that they may become less vehicles for rubber stamped support, than a genuine movement of their own, albeit somewhat late in the game.  How this affects the House and Senate remains to be seen, but the discipline that the House and Senate have shown in the past may be slipping, and that means that genuine compromise may have to be reached between the two parties, and if the TEA Party can facilitate this, I may be forced to re-evaluate my opinion on what began as Astroturf.

Crossposted to The Motley Moose

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