Not many people are familiar with the House Rules Committee, or why it has so much power to determine what legislation passes the House. Simply put, the Committee sets the terms for debate of all significant legislation--how long a bill is debated, who may offer amendments, what amendments may be offered, etc. Before a bill goes to the House floor, the Committee meets to review amendments, hear testimony from interested parties, and discuss how to structure the floor debate.
Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter did something unusual however, in the hearing on legislation to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act--she announced at the start of the hearing that no amendments of any type would be allowed for debate. Committee Democrats followed Slaughter's lead and voted against amendments to: authorize surveillance of those engaged in the creation of Weapons of Mass Destruction; authorize surveillance of foreign terrorists outside the United States; extend liability protection to telecommunications companies that relied on government directives and shared information deemed necessary for protection from terrorist attack; and, allow a debate on the Bush administration's alternative.
The Republicans having but one option left to fight the Democrats in order to keep America safe, used their right under the house rules to offer one 'motion to recommit' the bill.
Nothing in this Act [H.R. 3773] or the amendments made by this Act shall be construed to prohibit the intelligence community (as defined in section 3(4) of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 401a(4))) from conducting surveillance needed to prevent Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, or any other foreign terrorist organization designated under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1189) from attacking the United States or any United States person.
Pretty straight foward but it threw the Democrats into disarray.
From Red State:
[UPDATE by Jeff:] House Democrats were unable to whip enough votes to get their way. Today, they were against a simple vote on a Republican proposal to protect America's intelligence agencies ability to fight Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. That's it - they were against that and fought desperately today to kill it.
When they failed, they pulled the entire FISA bill.-----------------
[UPDATE by Erick:] House Democrats have fallen into disarray. They are currently holding the FISA legislation from the floor until later in the day, so they can have more time to work their voting numbers. If the vote were held right now, the Republican motion would pass. Dems are working their moderates furiously right now. Just a reminder, the proposal Democrats are working against simply protects the ability of our intelligence agencies to protect America from Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
From Boehner's site:
“Our proposal gives Democrats a very simple choice: They can allow our intelligence officials to conduct surveillance on likes of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda or prohibit them from doing so and jeopardize our national security. Every member of the Majority will now have the opportunity to go on record and take a firm position for or against giving our intelligence community all the tools they need to keep America safe.”
Eric Cantor calls it drawing a line in the sand and putting everyone on public record:
The House is voting today on FISA legislation, the Democrats have played petty politics with this bill. As currently written, many of America’s national security experts are concerned that it will limit their ability to protect this country. Let’s be clear, the intelligence agencies only wish to use the same investigative tools that have been used against organized crime for decades.
Today, we will be offering an amendment to the legislation to clarify that nothing in the bill “shall be construed to prohibit the intelligence community from conducting surveillance needed to prevent Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, or any other foreign terrorist organization…from attacking the United States or any United States person.”
Later today, on the House floor, let’s put all Members of Congress on the record - which do they care more about, pleasing their MoveOn.org liberal base or making sure America is safe and secure? Stay tuned for updates.
UPDATE:House Democrats are holding the FISA bill off the floor, scrambling to figure out how to respond. Why would they possibly want to avoid a vote that merely says we need to allow our intelligence agencies to keep America safe from terrorism?
UPDATE:House Democrats have pulled the FISA bill. They are so desperately against allowing our intelligence agencies to fight OBL and AQ, that they pulled the entire bill to prevent a vote.
These games the Democrats keep playing (closing off debate and not allowing amendments to come to a vote) are the reason they have been and will continue to be known as weak on National Security.
When the Republicans in the house have to fight the hardest battle against Democrats to keep America safe, that is a pretty sad day in history and yet that is where we are right now.
Once again the Democrats would rather please their far left, liberal, unhinged portion of their base than to protect our country.