Writings about policies and the actual goings-on in the Congress are not fun to read for those without the necessary political geekiness. This is lamentable, because the devil or the god is in the details, and whether that nice man we all would like to get drunk with actually brings down a vast empire or not can often be predicted by looking at the boring accronyms and meetings and things like accounts.
So I lament, and try to fix this problem. Imagine a dark and dingy room, with one lonely little light bulb hanging over a bare table. Imagine shady figures whispering and muttering and finally rising up and shaking hands with each other. The door slams down silence. What happened?
By a 10-8 vote today that broke along party lines, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill by Sen. Arlen Specter, written with "guidance" from the White House. The measure, in essence, gives Congressional approval to the NSA wiretapping program that President Bush authorized unilaterally. According to the deal cut by Specter, as long as the Bush administration finds "nothing objectionable" about the bill, Bush has promised to submit the program to the FISA court. Of note, the legislation itself would not require Bush to do so. (CQ Today, 9/13/06)Today on the Senate floor, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence committee, made the following statement regarding Specter and his bill:
"The chairman of the [Judiciary] Committee, a distinguished senator, an outstanding senator, is not briefed into this program, but he has a bill on how this program should be revised. You can't work legislation that way." (Senate Floor Remarks, 9/13/06)
Deals were made? What was the handshake all about? Well, I put that in to give some color to the story, but essentially the Senate Judiciary Committee passed three bills on the wiretapping question to the whole Senate. These bills contradict each other, so the Committee has left the deciding between them to the Senate.
And what comes next? Here is Glenn Greenwald on the possibilities:
From what I can discern, the Senate Judiciary Committee essentially passed on responsibility to the full Senate to save the administration by enacting the Specter FISA bill, while simultaneously blocking Democratic efforts on the Committee to dilute the most offensive parts of the Specter bill. Democrats have been reluctant to pay much attention to the Specter bill, but the way in which it (a) abolishes all limits on the President's eavesdropping powers; (b) embraces the Bush administration's most radical executive power theories; and (c) virtually destroys the ability to obtain judicial review for the President's lawbreaking, renders it a bill that is at least as pernicious as anything else that is pending. It deserves full-scale attention and opposition.
UPDATE: This article from The New York Times doesn't add much information but it does confirm the explanation I provided above: "Indeed, the Judiciary Committee voted today to send other provisions to the Senate floor for debate, even though they are not wholly compatible with the Specter-White House agreement." The Times also says that "many Democrats are sure to try to derail or amend the measure when the Senate takes it up," but the only way to really put a stop to this travesty is with a filibuster (assuming, as is wise, that House Republicans cease being a real impediment).
What drama! A filibuster? Imagine the brave heroes in paper helmets and wielding large wooden knives! Imagine the clang of weapons hitting each other. Imagine the rising heat of battle. Ok, so I've gone too far.
The Democrats didn't filibuster Alito, and he was a lot less frightening in that chrysalis stage. Now that the moth has come out, all are astonished and surprised, of course. Not.
Yes, these things do matter. I am really pining for a very good and dry story about all the money American taxpayers have sent for the Iraq reconstruction project. I really, really want to know who has it in its pocketses, to quote Tolkien.