No amendments allowed on NSA reform bill

No amendments allowed on NSA reform bill

House lawmakers won’t allow amendments on a surveillance reform bill hitting the chamber floor this week.

The House Rules Committee voted 8-3 along party lines to prohibit amendments on the USA Freedom Act, which would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records and extend parts of the Patriot Act for four years.

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Despite efforts from both sides of the aisle to expand the scope of the legislation Tuesday evening, Republican leaders of the Rules Committee closed the rule on the bill, seemingly out of fear that amendments would cause the Obama administration to change course and oppose the bill.

“The administration strongly supports passage of [the USA Freedom Act],” Committee Chairman Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges MORE (R-Texas) said before the vote. “Our Republican colleagues, our Democratic colleagues — who in fact spent a lot of time on this — believe that they refined and brought to a committee a bill that was bipartisan, one which was well worked and one which was balanced to the intelligence as well as law enforcement community.”

Democrats on the panel rejected that argument, saying extra congressional input would prevent future administrations from abusing the law.

“It doesn’t matter to me whether this administration or the previous administration supports this,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). “It does matter to me that we get it right, and I think that not allowing people to have amendments on this bill doesn’t give me great confidence that we will get it right.”

While not unexpected given lawmakers’ previous insistence on hewing to the negotiated legislation, the committee action was notable given the broad support for proposed amendments. 

The move blocked measures from lawmakers, such as Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), whose plan to update a 1986 law allowing the government to obtain people’s old emails without a warrant is incredibly popular in the House. Last year, the bill won the support of 272 co-sponsors — enough to easily pass through the chamber — though it was never brought to the floor. 

Another amendment from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) was identical to a measure that the House approved 293-123 as an amendment to a defense spending bill last year. That amendment would have prevented the government from forcing tech companies to build “backdoors” into their products, and also blocked the NSA from spying on Americans using a legal power meant to target foreigners.

“I think they are thoughtful amendments,” said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), who nonetheless voted to prevent amendments on the bill. “I think they deserve our consideration.”