Friday, February 15, 2008

The House of Reps.' Priority Problem

FISA, that piece of legislation that allows the government to eavesdrop on terrorists who'd like to kill us, will expire tonight at midnight because the House of Representatives failed to vote on it -- even though a bipartisan majority of House members approve of it.

Meanwhile, the House is in recess for a week so it can celebrate President's Day, which is to say, so members can campaign for reelection.

The responsible, adult way to reconcile the FISA expiration with the upcoming vacation would have been to vote before leaving town. But the House was otherwise engaged.

Take Congressman John Yarmuth, for example. He was busy investigating whether Roger Clemens and other baseball players took steroids. For all Yarmuth's grandstanding about Congress asserting its constitutional powers -- recall his "article 1" button -- Yarmuth shows little understanding of the role the framers envisioned for the House. There is no baseball penumbra in article 1.

To be sure, Congress can investigate almost anything under the ambit of interstate commerce. It doesn't follow, however, that invesitigating a private institution like baseball is a good use of taxpayers' time or money -- particularly when a critical national security law is set to expire within hours.

Other members of the Democratically-controlled House were busy issuing contempt resolutions regarding Republicans Harriet Miers and Joshua B. Bolten. Leaving aside the merits of the contempt citations, there was no justification for focusing on a witch hunt while neglecting to vote on FISA. Like the baseball hearings, the contempt hearings could have been postponed; the FISA vote could not.

The expiration of FISA has real consequences for our safety, as Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell explained:

Without the act in place, vital programs would be plunged into uncertainty and delay, and capabilities would continue to decline. Under the Protect America Act, we obtained valuable insight and understanding, leading to the disruption of planned terrorist attacks. Expiration would lead to the loss of important tools our workforce relies on to discover the locations, intentions and capabilities of terrorists and other foreign intelligence targets abroad.

Al Qaada must be gleeful: John Yarmuth rubs elbows with the Boys of Summer while FISA expires. We can't afford to suffer his childish antics. We need to send Anne Northup back to Congress.

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