As lawmakers in Congress wrap up their week-long vacation, America’s intelligence agencies are beginning to suffer the consequences of Congress’ inaction on the Protect America Act. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey confirmed today that the failure to renew the terrorist surveillance law has caused damage that is no longer “speculative or theoretical.”

In a six-page letter to House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), McConnell and Mukasey urged Congress to update FISA by permanently enacting the Protect America Act. The temporary law expired Feb. 16.

We have lost intelligence information this past week as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Congress’ failure to act. …

Our experience in the past few days since the expiration of the Act demonstrates that these concerns are neither speculative nor theoretical: allowing the Act to expire without passing the bipartisan Senate bill has had real and negative consequences for our national security. Indeed, this has led directly to a degraded intelligence capability.

Before leaving town for a week-long vacation, Speaker Nancy Pelosi chose to gamble with American lives rather than pass the overwhelmingly bipartisan-backed Senate terrorist surveillance bill.

Republicans hope McConnell and Mukasey’s confirmation that the U.S. became more vulnerable over the past week will spur Democrats to act when Congress returns. The Protect America Act was already renewed once this year for two weeks; the White House has pushed for making the law permanent with immunity for telecom companies — a sticking point for many liberals.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, will deliver a speech at Heritage on Tuesday that calls for quick action. In reaction to today’s letter, Hoekstra said Congress needs to give the intelligence community the authority it needs to protect America.

The more time goes by, the more vulnerable we become. How long will the House Democrat leadership place our national security at risk?

Democrats, meanwhile, reacted angrily to the news from McConnell and Mukasey. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) blamed Republicans for the failure to finish work on a FISA extension and called for yet another temporary fix.

[I]f Republicans truly believe gaps are created by a PAA expiration, they should support a temporary extension and join us in quickly crafting a strong, bipartisan FISA modernization bill that represents the best of the House and Senate passed bills.

And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accused Bush of “put[ting] Americans’ lives on the line” by refusing to compromise with Democrats. Reid said Bush has just one interest: protecting the telecommunications industry, not American lives.

These latest scare tactics represent the President at his most unreasonable, irresponsible and misleading [sic]. No amount of fear mongering will change the fact that our intelligence-collection capabilities have not been weakened since last week.

Reid, of course, failed to mention the Protect America Act passed overwhelming in the Senate, 68-29, with support from 20 of his Democrat colleagues.