- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

In support of the Patriot Act

When I opened the door this morning, I checked to see if the sky was falling. I was concerned because former colleague Bob Barr, the American Civil Liberties Union and others seem to believe that the end of the republic is near (“Conservatives, liberals align against Patriot Act,” Page 1, Tuesday). The cause of their consternation is a Senate Intelligence Committee bill permanently authorizing the intelligence-related portions of the USA Patriot Act and giving the attorney general an additional investigative tool to help stop terrorists and spies — the administrative subpoena.

I regret to say it, but the rhetoric of those opposed to permanently authorizing the act has no substance and borders on paranoia. Opponents have criticized the act for years but can cite only hypothetical abuses. Facts are stubborn things. The actual record is quite clear — there have been no substantiated allegations of abuse of Patriot Act authorities, period.

The committee’s bill does make modifications to the authorities granted under the Patriot Act — in particular the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act “business records” authority. These modifications actually place additional checks and balances on how Patriot Act tools are used. We made these changes to address reasonable concerns, not because there was reason for concern.

Through aggressive congressional oversight, we know the FBI uses Patriot Act authorities within the law. Permanent authorization of these intelligence tools — with the modifications proposed by the committee — is the right thing to do.

Regarding administrative subpoenas, Mr. Barr, a former congressman, states in a Sunday Commentary column (“The real nuclear option”), “If [the bill] succeeds, the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, on which the fundamental notion of privacy is based, will have been obliterated as surely as if targeted by a nuclear bomb.”

The ACLU has claimed that the Intelligence Committee met in secret to “rewrite our Fourth Amendment rights.” Of course, the committee has held three open hearings on the Patriot Act. But all opponents want to talk about is our closed markup.

We met in closed session so we could discuss classified operations and how the bill would affect those operations. Soon, the committee will publicly release a markup transcript with those classified examples redacted. The committee’s bill and accompanying report also will be public soon. As will be quite clear from these documents, the committee’s option is constitutional, not nuclear.

Now let’s talk rationally about administrative subpoenas.

The Supreme Court has upheld administrative subpoenas under the Fourth Amendment for more than 50 years — no nuclear bomb, no constitutional rewrite. Just as with a grand jury subpoena (which, by the way, is issued in secret and not preapproved by a court), the recipient of an administrative subpoena can challenge the document in court after the fact.

My former colleague has characterized proponents of the administrative subpoena authority as “constitutionally challenged.” My suggestion to Mr. Barr and other critics is to review the 50 years of Supreme Court precedent on administrative subpoenas. If opponents don’t like administrative subpoenas, they have a problem with history and court precedent — not with the committee’s bill.

If Congress has granted administrative subpoena authority for 335 types of investigations, why is it so controversial to grant it for terrorism investigations? If the attorney general can use an administrative subpoena to investigate health care fraud, child pornography and narcotics trafficking, why not to investigate terrorists and spies? If an administrative subpoena can be used to stop a dirty doctor, why not a dirty bomber?

While opponents warn of government-directed “fishing expeditions” into private records, they refuse to recognize, or explain, how these investigative tools are actually used. Once again, their arguments are based on fear, not facts. The committee’s bill authorizes administrative subpoenas only for lawful investigations to protect against terrorism, espionage or other national-security threats.

Congress will hold the attorney general accountable for use of the authority. Reasonable checks and balances in the bill, based on sound legal principles, will control how the subpoena is used. Significant reporting requirements will inform Congress, and — just to be sure — the authority is subject to a four-year sunset provision.

So, to Mr. Barr and others, I say, “Take a deep breath and calm down.” The Constitution and the Fourth Amendment remain intact. There is no good reason to deprive the FBI of well-established, constitutional tools that will help prevent terrorism and espionage. We cannot ask the FBI to stop terrorists and then force it to operate with one hand tied behind its back.



Age and Social Security

Now that there is talk once again of raising the age for Social Security payments (“GOP at Social Security standstill,” Nation, June 9) how about some honesty once and for all from some politician somewhere, somehow.

The obvious idea behind raising the age for Social Security is the hope that more people will just die off before they can receive benefits. Of course, once someone dies, any money that would have been paid to that person goes right back into the till because those benefits cannot be passed on to his or her beneficiaries.

I suggest that we immediately raise the retirement age to 100, and let’s just be honest as to what this is all about. It’s about getting people to die off before they can get anything back from this government-sanctioned pyramid scheme. The only way this entitlement program can survive in its present form is to eliminate the beneficiaries sooner rather than later — so I vote for 100.


Addison, Texas

Preserving smoking choice

It amazes me that I continue to be vilified by The Washington Times Editorial Page because of my desire to find an alternative to a total ban on smoking in D.C. restaurants and bars (“Up in smoke,” June 15, and “Blowing smoke,” May 19). Bottom line on this issue is the same as mine: “No ban.” How is it, then, that I have become your villainous poster girl in this debate, just as I have for the pro-ban lobby?

It is interesting that you should write that my bill “could be worse than the other two [bills calling for a total ban]”. Perhaps if you had observed the 12-hour hearing — or any portion of it — you would have seen that practically every restaurateur and bar owner, as well as the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, supports my compromise over a total ban. For whom is The Times speaking?

The fact of the matter is that the votes are now there on the council for a complete ban. Further, the mayor has now bought into the ban. As chairwoman of the council’s Committee on Public Works and the Environment, I — more than any other elected official — have resisted this effort. I did not allow the first attempt at a ban to go forward in my committee during the last council period, and, as any observer — especially your newspaper — should know, I have taken countless public hits because of it. I continue to fight renewed efforts for the smoking ban. But this time around, with the votes there for a total ban, I have been urging compromise that would preserve choice and would minimize the negative economic impact of such an extreme measure.

Yes, my bill, the Smoke-Free Restaurant, Tavern and Nightclub Incentive Amendment Act, raises license fees for restaurants and bars that allow smoking. Yes, it requires the installation of high-performance ventilation systems in those establishments. Yes, it provides financial incentives for restaurants and bars that choose to go smoke-free. And yes, I, too, would prefer “to allow the market to simply continue as it has,” and adapt on its own to accommodating the growing number of residents and visitors who prefer smoke-free eating and drinking environments. But the reality is, without compromise, a complete ban will be enacted. Doing nothing is not an option. It’s either a ban or a compromise, and my compromise will mean more smoke-free options while preserving choice.

Considering that we agree that a total ban is both undesirable and damaging, for me to be repeatedly singled out for criticism by The Times for making this effort is both counterproductive and, frankly, ridiculous.

You write, “If the Schwartz bill is a compromise, why not just ban smoking everywhere and be done with it?” Well, it looks like you will soon get your wish. Congratulations.


At-Large D.C. Council member


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