House Speaker John Boehner may be forced into allowing a vote on standalone legislation to curb the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, even though he has defended the agency's methods.
A growing number of lawmakers favor a bill to end the NSA's telephone records collections on nearly all calls made in the United States, reports The Hill.
But while Boehner says there are already many safeguards to protect privacy, he may have no choice but to allow a vote on legislation to curb the NSA, says one Democratic aide.
The insider told the Hill that if Boehner and other lawmakers block a vote on the standalone NSA reform legislation, House members who favor it will demand NSA-related amendments be added to vital legislation, such as defense bills.
"They're stuck," the aide said. "They would deal with this in the way they deal with a lot of things — by just not moving the legislation. Except how are they going to get other important pieces of legislation that they want to move unless they move this first?"
GOP leaders did allow a vote
in July on an amendment from Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan to end the NSA's phone data program.
The amendment met with party leader opposition and White House lobbying, but failed to pass by only seven votes. Boehner, who usually doesn't vote, cast a ballot against the Amash amendment, saying that there are already ample safeguards to protect privacy, and the NSA programs have "worked to protect the American people."
Some of those who voted against the Amash amendment now back legislation to limit the NSA. For example, California Republican Rep. Rep. Darrell Issa, who chairs the House Oversight Committee voted against the Amash amendment but now co-sponsors the USA Freedom Act, which is the primary bill to limit the NSA's power.
The bill was written by Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who had helped create the Patriot Act that the NSA uses when seeking approval for data collection. The Sensenbrenner bill has at least 102 co-sponsors — 51 Republicans and 51 Democrats.
Sensenbrenner said the Patriot Act kept Americans safe but "the balance between security and privacy was lost."
His bill seeks to end bulk collection of telephone data and tighten NSA oversight.
However, the NSA has strong defenders in the house, including Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who says the phone data program is a key tool in the fight against terrorism.
A battle over the NSA is also looming in the Senate, where Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is pushing legislation to protect its power. Meanwhile, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is pushing for a Senate version of the USA Freedom Act.
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