In addition to the fiscal debate, the farm bill, and the Violence Against Women Act in need of attention, Congress also hoped to pass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) before the end of the year. It's generated less attention, in part because of bipartisan support, but it shouldn't go by unnoticed.
FISA passed the House in September -- most Republicans supported it, most Democrats opposed it -- and this week, it reached the Senate floor. But as quickly became clear, proponents had two goals: (1) pass the already passed House version; and (2) kill every amendment, regardless of merit, because it would have sent the bill back to the House, which probably wouldn't have had time to consider the revised Senate version before the law expired on Monday.
FISA backers got their wish, and the bill passed -- sans amendment -- 73 to 23 this afternoon. Among the opponents were 21 Democrats and two Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Rand Paul. Adam Serwer highlighted just how misguided the Senate debate really was.
So what were these drastic changes sought by Feinstein's colleagues that would leave the United States open to annihilation by terrorists? They're mostly attempts to find out exactly how the changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act actually work in practice. The most radical proposal, Senator Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) amendment requiring a warrant for the government to access any digital communications, had no chance of passing but clarified just how moderate the Democrats' proposals were by comparison.
"It's incredibly disappointing that such modest amendments that would have done nothing more than increase transparency and accountability failed to pass in the Senate," said Michelle Richardson of the ACLU.
Remember, some of these amendments might have had a shot at passage, were it not for the fact that senators were told to oppose all changes or put the entire law in severe jeopardy.
So, nearly every Senate Republican, and most Senate Democrats, went along, once again clearing the way for a law that empowers the government to spy on Americans, defeating provisions that would have, among other things, improved oversight, documented abuses, and required relevant agencies to disclose how many Americans have been subjected to warrantless searches.
President Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law over the weekend.