We recently wrote about Rep. Justin Amash’s plan to strip the NSA of funding by adding an amendment to the defense appropriations bill making its way through the house. The plan was not without its obstacles, not the least of which was a last-minute change in rules deliberately aimed at preventing actions like Amash’s.
With the open amendments process effectively nullified by the change in process, Amash has changed tactics a bit.
Representative Justin Amash of Michigan is on his way to forcing the first legislative showdown over the National Security Agency’s controversial policy of collecting the phone logs of every American.
The venue for the fight is an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill that would ban the NSA from collecting information from people who aren’t under investigation.
This one seems like it might have a better chance of surviving any pushback by Republicans hoping to shepherd the appropriations bill through the house. Even with the rules change, if Amash’s amendment is allowed to receive a floor vote, it could still end up as part of the larger bill. So far, the House Rules Committee is fighting the amendment by postponing the vote, something it did twice last week.
Even if the HRC manages to kill off the amendment by denying it a floor vote, it may find itself facing something even worse.
The catch is, if the Rules Committee doesn’t allow a vote on the amendment, Amash and a coalition of Republicans and Democrats probably have the votes to bring the whole bill down. To do so, they could vote against the “rule,” which governs debate for the bill. Those are typically party-line votes, so only a few Republicans would need to join the Democrats to defeat it.
Amash’s actions can’t be making Speaker of the House John Boehner very happy. Rather than easing through an annual DoD budget, Boehner is facing combative legislators attempting to send a message to the NSA (and to their constituents). Neither option looks particularly palatable, and thus far, the Speaker hasn’t shown he can muster a unified front, much less cross party lines like Amash can.
Amash says the amendment could get widespread support in a roll call vote. “The coalition is much broader than just libertarian-leaning conservatives and liberals. If you talk to members from across the political spectrum you’ll find widespread disapproval of what the NSA is doing…”
Either way this plays out, the NSA’s going to be perturbed. If the appropriations bill sails through with the amendment attached, it will be faced with a possible ban on part of its domestic surveillance activities. There’s little doubt the NSA will get its powers reinstated, but it will have to go through a very public battle in order to do so. In the current climate, it’s doubtful that many would leap to its defense, other than the usual suspects.
If Amash’s amendment is prevented from receiving a floor vote, the entire appropriations bill might be shot down. If that happens, and the Department of Defense’s budget is in jeopardy, you can imagine the Speaker’s office will be quickly filling up with agency heads looking to get their hands on an impotent Boehner.