On Wednesday — the day before the United States House of Representatives voted to approve the USA FREEDOM Act (HR 3361) — Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) explained on the House floor that back room machinations changed the bill between the votes approving it in the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees and the bill’s consideration on the House floor. These shenanigans outside the routine committee process, Lofgren explains, made meaningless some restraints on US government mass spying contained in the bill. Lofgren states:
After [the USA Freedom Act] was reported out unanimously by the House Judiciary Committee, certain key elements of this bill were changed. I think it’s ironic that a bill that was intended to increase transparency was secretly changed between the committee markup and floor consideration, and it was altered in worrisome ways.
Lofgren proceeds to explain that, under the bill, mass spying may be justifiable in multiple geographic areas including areas as large as an entire state or even the southern or eastern United States, meaning the bill does not stop the mass spying from continuing throughout the entire United States.
Lofgren also notes that all nine of her amendments were ruled out of order. In fact, no amendments at all were considered during the House floor debate.
Many people, including many individuals in the American majority who oppose the mass spying program, would concur with Lofgren’s final words in her speech: “We should insist that we do better than this, Mr. Speaker.”
Watch Lofgren’s short speech here:
Back in 2011, House Speaker John Boehner assured us the House would do better, saying upon assuming the speaker position:
The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions.
After all, this is the people’s House. This is their Congress. It’s about them, not us. What they want is a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public it serves.
Let’s start with the rules package the House will consider today. If passed, it will change how this institution operates, with an emphasis on real transparency, greater accountability, and a renewed focus on the Constitution. Our aim will be to give government back to the people. In seeking this goal, we will part with some of the rituals that have come to characterize this institution under majorities Republican and Democratic alike. We will dispense with the conventional wisdom that bigger bills are always better; that fast legislating is good legislating; that allowing additional amendments and open debate makes the legislative process ‘less efficient’ than our forefathers intended.
These misconceptions have been the basis for the rituals of modern Washington. The American people have not been well served by them. Today, mindful of the lessons of the past, we open a new chapter.
Legislators and the public will have three days to read bills before they come to a vote. Legislation will be more focused, properly scrutinized, and constitutionally sound. Committees, once bloated, will be smaller, with a renewed mission, including oversight….
That was the promise. The reality is the USA FREEDOM Act — a complex bill concerning extensive US government violations of individual rights that is rewritten behind closed doors to override the committee hearings and markup process two days before the full House votes on the bill upon completion of a House floor debate in which no amendments from House members may be considered.