A trio of Democratic House Committee Chairmen are stepping up the fight against President Bush’s surveillance bill this week, vowing to beat back a controversial proposal to grant retroactive amnesty to companies accused of illegally spying on Americans.
Congressmen John Dingell, Ed Markey and Bart Stupak are circulating a letter urging their colleagues to stand firm and keep amnesty out of the final spying bill. The House already passed a bill without amnesty, but the Senate is scheduled to pass a bill with retroactive amnesty as early as Tuesday. That would trigger a fight to resolve the issue in a conference committee of Democratic leaders. While a majority of Democrats in both Houses have voted against amnesty, Senators Harry Reid and Jay Rockefeller have fought hard to keep the proposal on the table, quailing at Bush’s repeated threats to veto the bill if it does not include amnesty.
The House Democrats’ letter explains that amnesty is distinct from the surveillance bill, which grants the administration more spying powers and weakens judicial requirements for warrants. "The issue of immunity for phone companies that chose to cooperate with the President’s warrantless wiretapping program deserves a separate and more deliberate examination by Congress," reads the letter. "No special urgency attaches to the question of immunity other than the Administration’s general eagerness to limit tort liability and its desire to avoid scrutiny of its own actions, by either the courts or the Congress."
Last week, over two dozen House members hammered the same point in a letter toPresident Bush:
Corporations that handed over their customers’ records without a valid court order […] undermined fundamental civil protections and privacy rights of Americans. Congress as a whole was kept in the dark for years about these activities, and to this day, the overwhelming majority of House Members and Senators have never been briefed on these activities. We cannot be asked to immunize these actions before we know the full extent of what occurred.