House Democrats Sneak Through Patriot Act Vote

Yesterday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to extend the Patriot Act, a law that violates the Fourth Amendment right of all people within the USA to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure. The Patriot Act grants extraordinary government powers to spy on Americans’ private lives, grabbing records of their communications, commercial activities, and even checking on which library books we’re reading. The law makes it crime for anyone conscripted into aiding these government spying programs to tell people that they’re being spied on either – they’re required by law to lie, and pretend nothing happened instead.

Last year, the judiciary committees of the Senate and House attempted to draft reforms of these kinds of terrible abuses. The reforms were weak, but a small step in the right direction. However, the Patriot Act extension passed this week by the House and Senate contains none of those reforms. In fact, the Patriot Act extension just passed by Congress has no reforms at all.

Let’s say that you want to go find out about this vote. You want to know whether your U.S. Representative voted to extend one of the worst laws passed under George W. Bush, a law that was supposed to expire years ago. You would go to the Library of Congress legislative archive and look for the roll call vote, right? The funny thing about this particular roll call vote is that you’d have the devil of a time finding it.

That’s because congressional Democratic leadership arranged for the vote to be held not for a stand alone bill, but for an agreement to a Senate amendment to the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act. So, if you heard the news of a Patriot Act vote, and went looking for the roll call, you wouldn’t find it. You’d see roll call # 67 for this year, but would reasonably conclude that the vote is thoroughly unrelated to the Patriot Act. If you hadn’t heard of the Patriot Act extension, and just wanted to see what legislation had been voted on yesterday, you would come away still ignorant of what the House of Representatives had actually done.

The reason that the roll call vote in the House took place in this fashion is that Senate Democratic leadership wanted to extend the Patriot Act without any roll call vote at all, and without any debate. The House Democratic leadership was only too happy to go along with the game of camouflaging the Patriot Act extension vote.

The fact that the Democratic leadership of both the House and Senate chose this legislative approach indicates that they know that extension of the Patriot Act without any reforms is highly unpopular among their constituents. If they were proud of the vote, they would work to make it obvious. They’d publicize it. This Patriot Act extension is a piece of legislation that congressional Democrats clearly feel ashamed about, though most of them voted in favor of it anyway.

Yesterday, 97 members of the House of Representatives, 87 Democrats and 10 Republicans, voted against the reformless Patriot Act extension. 20 members, 5 Democrats and 15 Republicans, abstained. 315 members, 162 Democrats and 153 Republicans, voted in favor of extending the Patriot Act without any reforms.

Yes, more Democrats than Republicans voted for this concealed maneuver to perpetuate the abuses of the Patriot Act. Is that what Democratic voters thought they were getting back in the election of 2008?

Search through the roll call vote for the name of your U.S. Representative.

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