- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Whenever the issue of foreign surveillance is discussed in Washington, Democrats immediately invoke “Big Brother” to scare people. From the way Democrats are running Congress, they would do well to remember “Animal Farm,” since it seems Democrats believe they are more equal than others.

This seemed especially true late last week as Congress prepared to adjourn for its summer recess. Chaos broke out in the House of Representatives Thursday night after Democrats turned off House voting machines and changed a vote they lost on an agriculture bill, causing Republicans to storm off the floor of the House. The next day, Democratic leaders claimed a “mistake” had been made but refused to reinstate the vote they had lost.

There was more drama on Friday concerning a “terrorist loophole” that was preventing U.S. intelligence agencies from monitoring terrorist communications. In April, Director of National Intelligence Adm. Michael McConnell informed Congress that antiquated provisions of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA) were forcing him to get court orders to monitor terrorist communications and preventing him from collecting a significant amount of intelligence on terrorist activities.

For months, House Republicans tried unsuccessfully to update FISA through legislation. Last week, worried about the perception of Congress leaving for a four-week August recess without addressing this issue, House and Senate Democrats promised to fix FISA before the recess.

Instead of an open and inclusive process to address this urgent security issue, House Democrats tried to force through a FISA reform bill they had not shared with Adm. McConnell or House Republicans. Adm. McConnell was only able to tell Congress before this bill was voted on that he strongly opposed it because of a bizarre delay in House proceedings caused by House voting machines breaking down. Some Republicans wondered half jokingly whether Democratic leaders inadvertently damaged the voting machines when they shut them down during Thursday’s controversial agriculture vote.



On the Senate side, Sen. Jay Rockefeller opened the FISA debate Friday evening with a Democratic bill similar to the House bill. Like House Democrats, Mr. Rockefeller hadn’t shared his bill with fellow Republicans or Adm. McConnell. Mr. Rockefeller asserted that Adm. McConnell supported his bill. In fact, Adm. McConnell opposed Mr. Rockefeller’s bill and supported a rival bill submitted by Republican Sen. Kit Bond. This bill was identical to a bill I submitted to the House Wednesday night.

The House bill was moved to the floor under a special House rule requiring a two-thirds majority. It received only a slim majority, so it failed. The Bond bill passed by a vote of 60-28, with 16 Democrats voting yes. Mr. Rockefeller’s bill failed, 43-45.

C-SPAN viewers watched the denouement of the FISA drama Saturday evening. With the Senate adjourned for the summer, the House had no choice but to pass the Senate FISA bill or postpone action until after the August recess. Nevertheless, House Democratic leaders harshly attacked the Senate bill by claiming Republicans were using scare tactics and accusing the White House and Adm. McConnell of playing politics. The House passed the Senate FISA bill 227-183. Forty-one Democrats voted yes. The president signed the bill into law on Sunday.

What lessons can be drawn from these events? The most heartening lesson comes from the 41 House Democrats and 16 Senate Democrats who voted for the FISA bill. I applaud these legislators for putting our national security above politics.

The more disturbing lesson is the lack of responsible leadership in Congress at a time when our nation is facing dire threats from al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. This Congress has been marred by cheating on House votes, endless votes on Iraq, demonizing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and politicizing national security. This record falls far short of what the American people expect and demand from Congress.

Americans will be looking for Democrats to begin to govern responsibly when they return from their summer recess in September. This means reaching across the aisle to find inclusive and bipartisan answers to the many challenges and problems facing our nation.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, is the ranking Republican member on the House Intelligence Committee.

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