- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

After a brief period last week when it appeared that the House Democratic leadership might be preparing to end their obstructionism regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), it’s business as usual for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Today, the House is expected to consider a FISA bill crafted by senior Democrats that does not give retroactive liability protection to telecommunications companies that helped monitor the electronic communications of terrorists after September 11. Last month, the Senate voted 68-29 in favor of legislation including such protections, with 19 Democrats voted with the majority. In the House, 21 members of the Blue Dog Coalition signed a letter to Mrs. Pelosi urging passage of the bipartisan Senate bill. Mrs. Pelosi responded by sending the House on a vacation without considering the Senate bill.

More recently, however, there were indications that the Democratic leadership might be looking for a way to gracefully capitulate on FISA. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes told CNN Feb. 29 that his panel had been talking to telecommunications companies “because if we’re going to give them blanket immunity, we want to know and understand what it is we’re giving them immunity for. ” Mr. Reyes’ use of the term “blanket immunity” appeared to indicate that the House leadership was moving in the direction of the Senate bill. Stating that negotiators were “very close” to working out some kind of compromise, Mr. Reyes said he had an “open mind” about retroactive liability protection.

But the reaction from trial lawyers who stood to profit from lawsuits against telecommunications firms was decidedly negative and the left-wing blogosphere was downright apoplectic. Mr. Reyes appeared to have gone underground, resurfacing Tuesday with a one-paragraph statement, also signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, denouncing the White House as obstructionist. Meanwhile, House Democrats leaked to the New York Times the outlines of a new proposal that denies retroactive immunity to the telecommunications firms. Rather than bar lawsuits against companies for doing their patriotic duty by helping the U.S. government prevent terrorist attacks, the Pelosi plan would ensure that they remain vulnerable to new litigation: House Democrats would create a bipartisan congressional commission with subpoena power to issue a report on U.S. terrorist surveillance programs. They would leave the issue of immunity to the federal courts — ensuring that it becomes the subject of protracted litigation that could go on for years.

Tomorrow, the speaker plans to send the House on another vacation — this one for two weeks. Her motto seems to be: It ain’t over until the terrorists and trial lawyers win.

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