- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Next Congress

Second of five parts

Both political parties say America’s safety requires the next Congress to improve mass-transit security and intelligence efforts, but Democrats think it must immediately address fraud and waste at the Department of Homeland Security.

Democrats vow to flex their subpoena and investigative muscles if elected to lead Congress next month and will take on President Bush’s use of wiretaps.

“We have not had significant issues addressed from an oversight standpoint — we’ve not issued one subpoena,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who as ranking member of the House Homeland Security Department is in line to lead the panel.

“Leadership, in agreement with the chairman, just decided that it [investigations] was not a priority,” Mr. Thompson said. “That will not be a problem with the new Congress.”

Democrats have an outside chance of taking complete control of Congress, but a better chance of winning one chamber, and in this series, The Washington Times will look at how such a transfer of power will affect U.S. policy and politics.

Both of the Democratic Capitol Hill leaders, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, have said Mr. Bush is threatening civil liberties in the name of war and pledged to force the administration to obtain court orders before issuing wiretaps of terror suspects.

Democrats say that Mr. Bush’s wiretaps without court orders violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) — created in 1978 to ensure court oversight — and that they will legislate allowances to obtain the subpoenas in a speedy manner. “We will pass tough and smart legislation to deal with this important legislation,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Mr. Reid.

Probing deeper

Mr. Bush had fought to conduct the war on terror on his own terms but recently sought congressional authority for the most contentious programs, including the National Security Agency’s (NSA) wiretapping without court orders.

The House passed a bill allowing the NSA to listen to phone calls between the United States and overseas, but the Senate did not pass legislation before adjourning for the elections.

Mr. Bush uses the issue on the campaign trail, holding up House Democrats’ votes against the program as a reason they should not be trusted with control of Congress.

“The American people must fully understand that the vast majority of Democrats opposed the right of this administration to have a tool necessary to protect you,” he said while campaigning last week. “We just have a different view. They must not think we’re at war.”

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