House Democrats continued to block passage of a terrorist surveillance bill today, rejecting a measure by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) to add the Senate-passed FISA bill to the fiscal 2009 Intelligence authorization bill. The amendment was defeated by one vote in the House Intelligence Committee, the latest proof that the Senate bill would pass the House if Speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed it to come to the House floor. Congress let emergency surveillance powers lapse more than 80 days ago.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the committee’s top Republican, said it was irresponsible for Congress not to act on the bipartisan measure:
This is the bill by which Congress sets the funding levels and the authorities for America’s intelligence agencies. What message does it send that the Congress has rejected one of the intelligence community’s highest priorities? Our nation’s terrorist surveillance capabilities continue to erode, as Senator Rockefeller has noted. So has our capability to protect our homeland, our embassies and troops overseas, and our allies.
Hoekstra did prevail on another vote to strip all earmarks from the authorization bill, an important — and surprising — accomplishment. It was the second year in a row Hoekstra sponsored the measure, citing the bill’s highly classified nature.
Because much the text cannot be viewed by the public, Hoekstra said “the best assurance we can give the American people that Congress is spending taxpayer money wisely is to spend it on national security, not earmarked requests.” One of the earmarks was the controversial National Drug Intelligence Center in Rep. John Murtha’s Pennsylvania district. Hoekstra’s measure passed, 17-4.