On Wednesday the House voted on an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have defunded the NSA’s PRISM program and ended its ability under the PATRIOT Act to collect phone records and metadata from individuals not under investigation. “Small government” Republicans teamed up with “liberal” Democrats to narrowly defeat Rep. Justin Amash’s (R-Mich.) amendment, 217-205.
One hundred thirty-four Republicans voted “no” on the Amash amendment, as opposed to 83 Democrats. Although many of the Republican representatives who opposed the amendment constantly rail against the excesses of big government and actively oppose the Affordable Care Act on the grounds that it gives the federal government too much power, they have no problem giving President Barack Obama control and unlimited access to our phone records and metadata.
The White House and NSA Director General Keith Alexander were scrambling to rally lawmakers to oppose the amendment. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney described the move to defund PRISM as a “blunt approach” that “is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.”
Considering the fact that the Obama administration had entirely concealed PRISM from the U.S. public before the Edward Snowden leaks, Carney is hardly in a position to lambast the House for being neither informed nor open. This is further evidence that, despite Carney’s statements to the contrary, Obama is not actually willing to debate the merits of security versus Americans’ constitutional rights with PRISM’s opponents.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Charles Albert "Dutch" Ruppersberger (D-Md.) toed the White House line, shamelessly espousing the merits of warrantless NSA surveillance. As no initiative to curtail the Fourth Amendment’s protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures” would be complete without inciting fear and panic, Rogers obliged and accused the House of forgetting the 9/11 attacks.
Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) urged the House to “not deal in false narratives” and instead “deal in facts that will keep Americans safe.” Bachmann herself is an expert on false narratives, having claimed numerous times that government overreach from Obamacare would literally kill women, children, and senior citizens.
Meanwhile, libertarian and Tea Party darling Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) wisely stated that “if you want to have a government that does everything for you, they’ve got to know everything about you.” The only problem is that he said this in relation to the IRS scandal, not the PRISM scandal. In fact, Ryan sided with the White House and Bachmann and also voted against the amendment, allowing the government to know virtually everything about most Americans.
Nonetheless, in May Ryan reacted with righteous outrage in response to the Department of Justice’s sweep of AP phone records, including their phone line in the House press gallery, stating that “this is what you get when you have a government that just has gone beyond its moorings, that has gone beyond its scope.” In a remarkable display of cognitive dissonance, Ryan apparently has no problem allowing the government to go beyond its scope when it comes to our phone and internet records.
To be sure, it would not have been possible to stop the amendment without the support of Obama’s fellow Democrats. However, the fact that only 83 Democrats voted “no” in comparison to 134 Republicans indicates that congressional Democrats are slightly better than trademark “small government” Republicans when it comes to the national security state and our civil liberties. However, it is likely that a number of those Democrats would have rallied against the PRISM program had it been revealed during the Bush era.
The American public deserves better than this. Obama is clearly a lost cause when it comes to civil liberties but Congress has a duty to protect the public from executive overreach. Republicans in particular cannot have it both ways as they whine about government overreach but openly endorse the most egregious example of overreach from the Obama administration.