Sure, it’s idiotic. But at least he’s going about it correctly.
From AP/Breitbart, “Sen. Specter Threatens to Block NSA Funds”:
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said Thursday he is considering legislation to cut off funding for the Bush administration’s secret domestic wiretapping program until he gets satisfactory answers about it from the White House.
“Institutionally, the presidency is walking all over Congress at the moment,” Specter, R-Pa., told the panel. “If we are to maintain our institutional prerogative, that may be the only way we can do it.”
Specter said he had informed President Bush about his intention and that he has attracted several potential co-sponsors. He said he’s become increasingly frustrated in trying to elicit information about the program from senior White House officials at several public hearings.
According to a copy of the amendment obtained by The Associated Press, it would enact a “prohibition on use of funds for domestic electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes unless Congress is kept fully and currently informed.”
Specter also agreed with Democrats who say that any of the bills to tighten guidelines for National Security Agency program and increase congressional oversight could be flatly ignored by an administration with a long history of acting alone in security matters.
“It is true that we have no assurance that the president would follow any statute that we enact,” Specter said. He said he’s considering adding an amendment to stop funding of the program to an Iraq war- hurricane relief bill being debated by the Senate this week and next.
“The appropriate members of Congress have been and continue to be informed with respect to the Terrorist Surveillance Program,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “The Administration remains confident that a majority of members of Congress continue to recognize the importance of protecting Americans through lawful intelligence activities directed at terrorists.”
Specter’s announcement came a day after the House passed an bill 327- 96 to dramatically increase spending on intelligence programs. In the process, Republicans blocked an amendment to expand congressional oversight of the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., said allegations that NSA domestic wiretapping operations are abusive or unconstitutional are outrageous and that Congress is committed to vigorous oversight of the program.
As I’ve argued all along, this entire manufactured outrage was—at least among those in Congress—nothing more than an attempt to fight a turf war through the press by instigating the appearance of impropriety. Congress wants oversight authority and the ability to have a secret judiciary branch decide what a sitting CinC can and cannot do with his wartime authority—and they wish to be able to usurp this authority without proving that the President has broken any laws (legal scholars are split on the NSA program—though it bears repeating that those who have been briefed about the program don’t have a problem with it and continue to support it).
Russ Feingold’s call for censure filled his coffers (what can you say? Bush hatred sells to the hard left), but the call was ridiculous on its face. Were he serious, he would have called instigated articles of impeachment and attempted to prove the President had broken the law.
The second check on Executive war time power—like that used in Vietnam—is Congressional defunding. Which is what Specter is calling for here.
So while he is to be condemned for having a tin ear and a outsized streak of self-importance, he is to be congratuted for using the proper measure to attempt to fight the President’s authorization of the program.
Of course, what this would do, should the legislation be introduced, is force Senators to put their votes on the record. Which Senators want to vote against surveillance that the NSA says has, in fact, stopped attacks—and that the Justice Department, the FISA review court, many legal scholars, and those Senators who have been briefed all say is useful, necessary, and is operating legally (or, if you prefer, under an assumption of Presidential wartime authority that has never been ruled upon by SCOTUS, but that has been implicitly acknowledged by lower courts).
I know I’d like to see which Senators are willing to vote against the President’s use of the NSA to monitor the conversations of those in the US who have had contact with either known al Qaeda / terrorists, or communicate frequently with specifically identified hot zones within certain countries. And I’m probably not alone.