OCCUPIED TUCSON CITIZEN
On the 24th of July the U.S. House of Representatives voted on amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill. This amendment if passed would have denied funding for National Security Agency (NSA) programs which have been collecting meta-data on communications between and among United States citizens, including telephone and e-mail traffic. The vote was surprisingly close, at 205 yes and 217 no. The yes votes supported the amendment. Voting yes were 94 Tea Party or libertarian-leaning Republicans, and 111 progressive Democrats.
This amendment was sponsored by Michigan Republican Congressman Justin Amash, and co-sponsored by Michigan Democrat John Conyers, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee. Prominent supporters of this amendment included Arizona’s Raul Grijalva (D), Ed Pastor (D), Paul Gosar (R), Matt Salmon (R), and David Schweikert (R). Other prominent supporters included Democrats Zoe Lofgren of California, Jared Polis of Colorado, Jerrold Nadler of New York, Republicans Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Mike Mulvaney of South Carolina, and Patriot Act author James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a Republican.
This amendment did not pass in the House. The Defense Appropriations Bill was passed without it, but there is another opportunity for it in the Senate, which has not yet approved a Fiscal Year 2014 Defense Appropriations bill. If such an amendment were to be approved in the Senate, and be included in the Senate’s passage of the Defense Appropriations Bill, the matter would have to be resolved in Conference Committee where a final version would be negotiated.
Meanwhile Kentucky’s Republican Senator and Tea Party favorite Rand Paul has introduced his Fourth Amendment Restoration Act of 2013, which states:
“The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution shall not be construed to allow any agency of the United States Government to search the phone records of Americans without a warrant stating probable cause.”
The Fourth Amendment states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The same day that the above-referenced amendment to deny funding for NSA collection of meta-data was defeated in the House of Representatives, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) sponsored the FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act, with co-sponsors Mike Lee (R-UT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jon Tester (D-MN), and Tucson-born Mark Udall (D-CO).
This is evidently a spontaneous and focused right-left coalition of Federal legislators. These positions are a slap in the face of the Obama administration, which has been defending the NSA wiretaps. A similar alliance could occur around the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, introduced in the Senate by Rand Paul and Patrick Leahy in March. It was not released from committees for a vote, but it may well be reintroduced in 2014. This measure would grant judges flexibility in sentencing of non-violent federal drug offenders, and would eliminate mandatory sentences.
Another issue that could possibly attract such a Left-Right alliance is the proposed Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, sponsored by Congressman Peter De Fazio (D-OR) in April, and which is still under discussion in committees. This measure would require labeling of all genetically modified foods under authority of the Food and Drug Administration. A number of right-wing Republican members of the House are known to oppose the sale of unlabeled GMO food products. Legislation on these matters is now pending in a total of 26 State Legislatures.
Moreover, support for correcting the US Government’s disastrous Cuba policy and reversing the blockade is now coming from farm state Republicans and other “conservative” legislators, including Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. A coalition of these folks with “liberal” Democrats might open up trade and substantially improve relations with that presumed “enemy” of more than 50 years.
The standoff which led to the Government shutdown for 16 days and to the brink of default on October 17th has hardened partisan sensitivities and temporarily sidelined such left-right cooperation. Nevertheless there remains a strong possibility that the political setback suffered by the right in both the Senate and the House may lead to improved cooperation in the future, in order to avoid a similar disaster in January 2014, when the present mood of detente may have ended and the prospect of default looms again the following month. Tea Party Republicans mainly despise President Obama, and they can find satisfaction from aligning with progressive Democrats against centrist Administration positions on critical issues where they can find common ground.
If these initiatives were to prosper and expand, the result would not be limited to protection of the privacy of people in the United States, overturning excessive sentences for minor drug offenses, protection of the health of those who buy food items in American super markets, and correcting major flawed foreign policies. The groundwork will also have been set to begin breaking up the continuous logjams in the Congress, where the two houses are controlled by different parties. Progress in these areas could eventually overcome the hegemony of the established corporate elites over the American political scene. It could transfer more power to genuine representatives of the people, that is the 99%.