Wednesday :: Sep 13, 2006

Do Democrats Filibuster On Warrantless Surveillance?

by Steve

Arlen Specter, as expected, took the easy way out today and had his Senate Judiciary Committee send all three NSA warrantless surveillance bills to the full Senate for a debate next week. Two of the three bills, including a bill that Specter is carrying for the White House and another bill by Mike DeWine, are favorable to the administration and allow Bush to do what he wants while clearing him for past illegalities. However, the third bill represents his work with Dianne Feinstein to put some limits around the Executive Branch and requires more congressional oversight of the NSA than the travesties contained in the other two.

It should be noted that while the first two bills were passed out of the committee on straight party line votes with Democrats losing 10-8, the Specter-Feinstein bill passed not only with all Democrats but also with Specter and Lindsey Graham’s support. Clearly Specter wants to get a bill to the floor that the White House wants and knows it can get through with 51 votes, but he also wants apparently to give the Democrats a chance to make their case on the floor. And that opens up the opportunity for Senate Democrats to filibuster the two bills that grant Bush virtually unlimited surveillance authority in advance of the midterm election.

Should the Senate Democrats filibuster this issue and can they count on having 41 votes to maintain one? Secondly, can they effectively argue that their opposition isn’t about whether or not we should be tracking terrorists inside this country, but rather whether or not we should be giving the Executive Branch unchecked power to do what it wants in this country without any oversight whatsoever?

As to the first question, Reid starts with 44 votes and Jim Jeffords, but you immediately have to subtract from that Ben Nelson of Nebraska and perhaps one or two other Democrats up for election this year who would rather ditch their party just under eight weeks before their elections. The really interesting issue here is the dilemma such a vote carries for Joe Lieberman, who could side with the White House here and get hurt for it back home.

As to the second question, I have seen little from the Senate Democrats that indicates they know how to frame and effectively make their points here. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. There are already rumblings that vulnerable Republicans don’t want to associate themselves too closely with a Bush/Cheney power grab, so Democrats will have the chance to exploit those potential schisms with any pushback.

If you want proof that potential schisms exist and Reid has a chance to prod them, take a look at what happened today on the issue of detainee treatment.

Steve :: 3:50 PM :: Comments (8) :: Digg It!