FISA Voting

After reading a lot of the discussion at firedoglake about the FISA renewal act that is currently being passed in the Senate, I think that a certain level of perspective is needed in order to calm the tempers of the people who are upset about the whole thing.

Many commentators are decrying this newly-expanded FISA as a harbinger of the coming US police state. What they need to realize is that the Senate is first and foremost a body of compromise. The House of Representatives has always been the firebrand, “will-o’-the-people” chamber that has rowdy debates and is not known for its measured, reasoned stances. The Senate has accordingly fashioned itself as a sort of counterbalance to the House and the White House.

To understand why the Senate leadership is accepting this FISA legislation is to understand on a macro-scale how the Bush white house functions and how it pursues its aims. A perfect example of this was its treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo bay. By insisting upon not granting these prisoners access to civilian courts while also flouting its responsibility to provide fair trials for these prisoners, the White House forced the hand of the Supreme Court. The SCOTUS did not want to grant these detainees access to habeas corpus, but this was a rebuke that was required against an administration that does not compromise its stances whatsoever.

Now, when the WH comes to Congress to get a new FISA bill, you can expect what kind of bill they are going to ask for, and you can also expect whether or not they will compromise their stance at all. The FISA needed to be renewed (at least in the eyes of the Government), and therefore Reid & Co. did what any rational-minded senator would do: they used FISA as a bargaining chip. They rightly assume that extended power to an executive that is already a lame-duck White House is an easy-to-swallow bitter pill if it will get the White House to pass legislation on housing relief and the environment. Bush’s recent pledge to reduce greenhouse gasses by 50% as well as the revelations about Cheney’s office doctoring EPA reports on climate change is not a coincidence. Bush’s single-minded pursuit of ‘national security’ forced him to make these concessions, concessions which I believe outweigh the negative consequences of this new, expanded FISA.


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