Tuesday, October 9, 2007
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYT: Democrats Seem Ready to Extend Wiretap Powers

Two months after insisting that they would roll back broad eavesdropping powers won by the Bush administration, Democrats in Congress appear ready to make concessions that could extend some crucial powers given to the National Security Agency.

Administration officials say they are confident they will win approval of the broadened authority that they secured temporarily in August as Congress rushed toward recess. Some Democratic officials concede that they may not come up with enough votes to stop approval.

As the debate over the eavesdropping powers of the National Security Agency begins anew this week, the emerging measures reflect the reality confronting the Democrats.

Although willing to oppose the White House on the Iraq war, they remain nervous that they will be called soft on terrorism if they insist on strict curbs on gathering intelligence.

Ultimately I suppose this isn’t much of a surprise, as the Democrats in Congress have often made a lot of noise about Bush administration programs that they allegedly don’t like (if not despise), yet they have ultimately done little to actually address them.

Politically I am aware that being “soft on terrorism” could be problematic for the party, but by the same token one would think that their lack of fight on a panoply of issues, from the conduct of the war to questions about “coercive interrogations” to domestic intelligence gathering (to name three), would depress the enthusiasm of their core constituency and undercut their appeal to moderates who are unhappy with the GOP on the above listed issues. On all of these topics there is much squawking, yet ultimately very little action. It is as if they are more interested in the political issue than they are in actually, well, doing something about issues that supposedly upset them greatly.

One would think that congressional leadership would recognize that part of the reason that they have been experiencing such low popularity ratings is that they really haven’t behaved all that differently (in terms of results) than did the GOP when they were in control.

To be fair, there are modifications to the existing law in bills pending in both the House and the Senate, but it would appear that at the end of the day, the status quo won’t change much.

‘This still authorizes the interception of Americans’ international communications without a warrant in far too many instances, and without adequate civil liberties protections,” said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, who was in the group that met House officials.

On the flip side, the AP is reporting:

The Justice Department would have to reveal to Congress the details of all electronic surveillance conducted without court orders since Sept. 11, 2001, including the
so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program, if a new Democratic wiretapping bill is approved.

The draft bill, scheduled to be introduced to Congress Tuesday, would also require the Justice Department to maintain a database of all Americans subjected to government eavesdropping without a court order, including whether their names have been revealed to other government agencies.

Assuming that the bill makes it out of both chambers this will cause a confrontation with the White House and likely a veto. As such, if the current patterns holds, the Democrats will make a lot of noise about this provision of the bill, and eventually will capitulate (which they may have to do anyway, as they almost certainly don’t have the votes to override a veto). As such, one suspects that at the end of the day very little will change in regards to these issues.

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10 Responses to “Congressional Kabuki on Wiretaps”

  1. Micah Tillman Says:

    It’s shocking to me how much weakness has been displayed by both sides in congress for so long.

    Makes you wonder when a real leader is going to stand up and lead.

    And then it makes you cringe to think of the “real leaders” in the past and what they’ve gotten the world into.

  2. Outside The Beltway | OTB Says:

    Democrats Wiretap Bill: Cave-in or Strong Stand?

    The press coverage of the Democrats’ answer to the Bush administration’s call for enhanced domestic wiretapping authority is rather confusing. Pam Hess, until recently with UPI but now with AP, makes it seem like a rather sharp rebuke to …

  3. jk Says:

    between the white house and the congress i don’t think there has ever been a more worthless washington.

  4. Robert Says:

    Yet another example of why we need to get away from the 2-party system.
    Their strings are being pulled by the same people.

  5. Buckland Says:

    I’d compare to professional wrestling instead of Kabuki

    This shows that the Democratic screams about the wiretapping were the political equivalent of professional wrestling — lots of body slams and loud sound bites for the cameras but in the end everybody is on pretty much the same page.

    Part of leadership is being willing to take responsibility for the consequences of positions advocated. In this case the Democrats fail miserably. It’s a lot easier to blame others for problems without offering solutions. However parties who wish to lead don’t have that flexibility.

  6. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    The pro wrestling metaphor works.

  7. Jan Says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong (and I’m sure you will) but isn’t part of the “problem” with the congress the fact that there are congressional elections every two years?

    The president has a little bit of leeway to go out on a limb and lead, but it is more difficult for congress to do that. The President has four years to sell ideas. If they are not popular at first, but he (or possibly she in the future) can prove their worth, there is time to bring public opinion around to their side.

    But with Congress, even though Senators are elected for 6 years there are elections every two years. There is always the possibility that the tide is going to turn against so they always feel the need to play it safe.

    Plus there is always the group aspect of Congress that diminishes its leadership capability as well. If it is difficult (if not impossible) for international institutions to lead, it would seem that it is equally hard for a legislature to lead.

  8. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    There are a number of obstacles in the way of Congress to truly lead, although they could do a great deal more than they are doing, but they are unwilling because they fear voter reprisal.

    And certainly the Congress is more empowered than international institutions.

    I will agree that the default position is to play it safe all the way around.

  9. Jan Says:

    More empowered, certainly, and probably easier to reach a consensus as well, but it was more the consensus building I was referring to.

  10. Max Lybbert Says:

    The current Congrssional leaders want to make a point, but don’t seem to care all that much about making a difference. Of course this upsets (1) the voters who do not agree with that point, and (2) the voters that want to see actual change. They may think they’re playing it safe, but they are actually upsetting the vast majority of voters.

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