Domestic spying measure pulled from consideration

House Democrats were defecting from party's proposal

October 18, 2007|By Siobhan Gorman | Siobhan Gorman,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Democratic leaders abruptly pulled surveillance legislation from House consideration yesterday after Democrats began to defect from their party's proposal.

It was the most recent embarrassment for Democrats in efforts to update laws governing domestic spying by the National Security Agency and other U.S. agencies.

In August, over the objection of party liberals, the Democratic-controlled Congress approved a Bush administration proposal that expanded the government's warrantless eavesdropping powers.

That law, known as the Protect America Act, expires early next year, and Democrats had hoped, in approving a new law, to give courts a larger oversight role.

Democrats "ran into a buzz saw," said Caroline Frederickson, who directs the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union. "They were facing some defection in their own ranks, and the Republicans took advantage."

With liberal Democrats pushing for more court oversight of domestic surveillance, Republicans announced plans to use a procedural maneuver that, in effect, would force Democrats to kill their proposal or risk charges that they were against giving intelligence agencies the tools to hunt down Osama bin Laden.

Republicans quickly took credit for stalling the measure.

"House Republicans have continually said that if Democrats aren't willing to work with us to make the Protect America Act permanent, we are prepared to fight and win this fight again," said Minority Leader John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican.

Shortly before the House began debating the measure, President Bush said at a White House news conference that the Democratic measure would "weaken the reforms they approved just two months ago."

It was unclear when the House would return to the measure, and one well-placed Democratic aide refused to predict its prospects.

"Once again, House Republicans have chosen to engage in politics rather than substantively address the challenges that face the American people," said House Minority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat.

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