(H.R. 514) Passage of legislation that would have extended expiring provisions of a terrorism surveillance program known as the “Patriot Act.” Those provisions included allowing the federal government to wiretap terrorism suspects, authorizing intelligence officials to conduct surveillance of individuals who are not known to be affiliated with terrorist groups (known as the “lone wolf” provision), and providing federal investigators—after receiving permission from a judge—with access to business records (such as library records).
This was a vote on a motion to suspend the rules and pass legislation that would have extended expiring provisions of a terrorism surveillance program known as the Patriot Act. Those provisions—which were set to expire on February 28, 2011—included allowing the federal government to wiretap terrorism suspects, authorizing intelligence officials to conduct surveillance of individuals who are not known to be affiliated with terrorist groups (known as the “lone wolf” provision), and providing federal investigators—after receiving permission from a judge—with access to business records (such as library records).
Motions to suspend the rules limit time allowed for debate, and prohibit members from offering amendments. A two-thirds vote is required to approve the motion and pass a bill, rather than the usual majority.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) urged support for the bill: “We are safe today because the men and women of our Armed Forces, our intelligence community, and our law enforcement agencies work every single day to protect us. And Congress must ensure that they are equipped with the resources they need to counteract continuing terrorist threats. On February 28, three important provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act will expire. These provisions give investigators in national security cases the authority to conduct `roving' wiretaps, to seek certain business records, and to gather intelligence on lone terrorists who are not affiliated with a known terrorist group. These types of provisions have been used by domestic law enforcement agencies for years to apprehend typical criminals. It is common sense to give our national security investigators the same tools to fight terrorists that our police officers have to combat crime.”
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) also supported the measure: “With respect to roving wiretaps… Law enforcement has been using roving wiretaps for years against drug dealers and organized crime, I believe since 1986. Extending that roving wiretap provision to terrorists makes good sense. We have been doing it. We need to give law enforcement and our intelligence services the tools they need to take down these terror plots before they become operational. That is why this extension is needed.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) criticized the bill, including the extension of the lone wolf provision: “Surveillance of an individual who is not working with a foreign government or organization is not what we normally understand as foreign intelligence. There may be many good reasons for government to keep tabs on such people, but that is no reason to suspend all our laws under the pretext that this is a foreign intelligence operation.”
Some Republicans also opposed the bill. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) argued: “…It is good to be safe, but governments can't make us safe. I question whether or not we have been made safer by the Patriot Act. But let's say a law makes us somewhat safer. Is that a justification for the government to do anything they want? For instance, if you want to be perfectly safe from child abuse and wife beating, the government could put a camera in every one of our houses and our bedrooms, and maybe there would be somebody made safer this way. But what would you be giving up. So perfect safety is not the purpose of government. What we want from government is to enforce the law and to protect our liberties.’
The vote on this bill was 277-148. Voting “yea” were 210 Republicans and 67 Democrats. 122 Democrats and 26 Republicans voted “nay.” While a majority of members voted in favor of the bill, a two-thirds majority vote is required for passage under suspension of the rules. Thus, the bill was defeated. As a result, the House rejected legislation that would have extended expiring provisions of a terrorism surveillance program known as the “Patriot Act.” Republican leaders, however, were expected to bring the bill up again under a different process requiring only a simple majority vote for passage.