Amash wants stand-alone vote on surveillance powers

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Republican U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan is leading a bipartisan letter signed by 34 colleagues demanding that House leadership hold a separate, standalone vote on whether to extend some federal surveillance powers.

The lawmakers are concerned that leaders intend to incorporate into a year-end spending package a renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in relation to warrantless searches of American citizens’ data.

They note that the expiration date for the law is approaching at year’s end, but the House hasn’t considered “hotly debated” legislation passed by two committees to reauthorize the FISA Amendments Act.

“Meanwhile, other legislative deadlines are looming, including a government funding deadline,” the members wrote last week to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

“There may be temptation to attach reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act to a large, end-of-year legislative package, but doing so would undermine representative democracy by effectively precluding most members of Congress from being heard on the important issues it raises, and preventing the public from finding out where their representatives stand.”

Government funding runs out Friday. The House Appropriations Committee recently released a bill that would fund the Pentagon for a year while including just five weeks worth of spending for domestic programs.

Amash, R-Cascade Township, has made surveillance reform the hallmark of his tenure in Congress, seeking in part to restrict the warrantless surveillance of Americans.

In the letter, the lawmakers said that the government’s intelligence-gathering under the statute “raises important questions about security, privacy, transparency, civil rights, constitutional law and the appropriate reach of government power in an age of dispersed, evolving national security threats,” they wrote.

“The House exists to debate the very sorts of issues raised by the FISA Amendments Act, and we insist on the opportunity to do so.”

Among the Democrats who joined Amash in signing the letters were Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Jared Polis of Colorado, and Zoe Lofgren of California.

Among the Republican signers were Reps. Walter Jones of North Carolina, Dave Brat of Virginia, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Mark Sanford of South Carolina; Raúl Labrador of Idaho, Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Dana Rohrabacher of California.