Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 28, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SPECTER TO GET TOUGH?....Arlen Specter claims that he's so frustrated over the Bush administration's refusal to answer questions about the NSA's domestic spying program that he might actually do something about it:

In a warning to the White House, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said he planned to introduce legislation that would cut off funds for the surveillance program, which he described as a threat to civil liberties and a violation of domestic espionage laws.

...."What's the use of passing another statute if the president won't pay any attention to it?" Specter said. "When you talk about withholding funds, there you're talking about a real authority."

I imagine that, as usual, someone from the White House will coo soothing words in Specter's ears and he'll back down, but who knows? Maybe this time he'll demonstrate some spine and do what's right. A few supportive calls and emails couldn't hurt. Contact info is here.

Kevin Drum 12:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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Comments

Good post with a nice call to action at the end. Let's hope he sticks this time.

Posted by: shortstop on April 28, 2006 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

He'll cave. Countdown 10...9...8...

Posted by: xyz on April 28, 2006 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Do you think if I sent him a note that said "Please don't be a spineless wimp again" it would strike the right tone?

Posted by: craigie on April 28, 2006 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe with El Decidero in the low 30's, moderate republicans will finally be able to grow a pair, or at least threaten to....

Posted by: nathan on April 28, 2006 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

I think its worth remembering that we wouldn't even be having this discussion about these important Contsitutional issues if those reporters hadnt investigated and reported on the story.

Bush called the the story shamefull and essentially traitorous. Some rightwingers now claim these journalists belong in jail. It would have seemed unthinkable not too long ago, but how far are we from having a government where such journalists truly are threatend with arrest and jail?

If Bush continued to have his way and the NYT continued to bow to his demands, we still wouldnt know that Bush had been lying during his re-election campaign when he continued to assure Americans "nothing had changed" and that the US still got a warrant when going after "terrorists" because he "valued the Constitution."

If Bush had his way, it would still be illegal to even raise the issue publicly let alone debate these important issues.

Posted by: Catch22 on April 28, 2006 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Please. I doubt even the most fiscally astute Senator could cut off funding for the program. Figuring out defense spending is tough enough, but it's close to impossible when you consider the NSA has a black budget.

Even if Specter could cut the funding, I'm sure some accountant over at the NSA could just move some money around and no one would know.

Posted by: NSA Mole on April 28, 2006 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

He will realize what a mistake he has made to question Our Leader during Times of War! Otherwise, off to Guantanomo!

Posted by: Freedom Phukher on April 28, 2006 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

He's got a plan about making a plan.

Posted by: apeman on April 28, 2006 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK


Click the link!

Specter made clear that, for now, the threat was just that.

"I'm not prepared to call for the withholding of funds," he told reporters later.


He knows better than to help you baby-killers!

Posted by: Freedom Phukher on April 28, 2006 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

In response to Kevin's suggestion that Arlen Specter may take steps to rein in the Administration on illegal wiretapping:

When has Arlen ever taken steps to rein in this Administration? Ever since prostrating himself to keep his Chairmanship back in 2004, Specter has been a castrato who can only bray at his reflection in the Wading Pool.

Posted by: Baldrick on April 28, 2006 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Haven't we talked about depending on so-called moderate republicans before? It'a a fool's errand.

Posted by: jimbo on April 28, 2006 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

The spinelessness is right there in the article:

Specter offered a funding cutoff measure as an amendment to an emergency war spending bill, but said he did not intend to push for the amendment's passage.

It's clearly just more meaningless noises, just as we've heard from Specter, McCain, and all the other fake "independent" Republicans again and again and again.

Posted by: KCinDC on April 28, 2006 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

From this story: [[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.]]

Man. If only there were something Congress could do when it had lost its confidence that the president would follow -- indeed, execute, per the Constitution -- any statute it enacts. If only there were, say, a kind of resolution the House could approve that would -- oh, I don't know, accuse the president of violating the Constitution and/or his oath of office? And wouldn't it be cool if the Senate could take that resolution and use it as a basis for deciding whether to vote the president out of office for that?

Maybe we should write that into the Constitution or something.

Posted by: Lex on April 28, 2006 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

The real question is that even in the improbably case that Specter follows through, what good will it do?

It is unlikely that there is a line item in the federal budget for this particular program or that it could be easily singled out of the rest of the NSA budget if there were. Therefore, it would be necessary not to withhold funds in a budget bill, but to pass a law specifying that funds couldn't be used for this purpose.

The President already appears to be ignoring provisions of the FISA and possibly, though less clearly, the 6th Ammendment. He has also refused to provide Congress, other than a small subset of the intelligence committees with a detailed explanations of what the program does so that they can decide for themselves whether he is complying with the law and the Constitution.

So why would he not ignore any bill blocking the funding of the program. I doubt Specter intends to withhold all funds from the NSA until the President provides the information Specter wants and that is even assuming Specter won't just back down, or his efforts get blocked by his party's House and Senate leaders.

Posted by: tanj on April 28, 2006 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Heh. I see that while I was typing my post, KCinDC and Lex made essentially the same point.

Posted by: tanj on April 28, 2006 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

It's hard to be a pimp.

It's easy to be a ho.

Posted by: lib on April 28, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

If Bush doesn't quit defying the constitution and separation of powers, Arlen Spector might driven so far as to send him a stiff note.

Posted by: EmmaAnne on April 28, 2006 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Why didn't the Dem members of the committe immediately jump to his side and make noise about this while it was news?

Why didn't all the Dems jump up and make noise?

Guess it's just not important.

Posted by: notthere on April 28, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

But as Commander in Chief Bush has inherent constitutional authority to use any appropriation for any purpose. And if that doesn't work he has the power and duty to raid all our piggy banks.

Posted by: Ross Best on April 28, 2006 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Is Specter delusional? What, does he think it's a matter of stopping payment on Congress' checks to the NSA? Is that how he thinks it works? As several others pointed out, you can talk all you want about how Congress "holds the purse strings," but that's obviously not actually true -- the President holds the actual purse strings, and it's only his willingness to abide by Congress' spending directions that makes the system work. There's just no reason to think Bush gives a shit what Congress says about how to spend money.

Posted by: Glenn on April 28, 2006 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK


Realistically, Kevin, even if Specter followed through, I'm sure the Bushies would just rename the program and shuffle some black-budget money around. The funding Specter cuts would probably end up cutting something actually useful, like body armor.

Posted by: Jon H on April 28, 2006 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

The President already appears to be ignoring provisions of the FISA and possibly, though less clearly, the 6th Ammendment. He has also refused to provide Congress, other than a small subset of the intelligence committees with a detailed explanations of what the program does so that they can decide for themselves whether he is complying with the law and the Constitution.

Posted by: tanj on April 28, 2006 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Since the President is not conducting this surveillance for the purpose of gathering evidence for use against persons in a criminal trial, the rights protected by the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments are not implicated.

He is, instead, acting pursuant to his constitutional authority as C-in-C of the armed forces to protect the nation from attack. It is undeniable that the President has the inherent authority to order the NSA to monitor all enemy communications on a world-wide basis. Thus, he has the authority to monitor such commincations that come into or go out of the US.

Specter should be careful of pushing this too hard. Most legal scholars would admit that FISA and the War Powers Acts are on shacky constitutional grounds. If push came to shove, I believe that the Supreme Court would invalidate these statutes rather than seriously weaken the powers of the President.

Posted by: Chicounsel on April 28, 2006 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

The difference is that the White House is more unpopular than ever, and that call from Cheney does not carry as much weight as it what did. The only hope for the GOP is for people like Specter to seperate from the administration, anything less will help give Congress back to Democrats

Posted by: Ryan Oddey on April 28, 2006 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

How about just having some fucking hearings about the subject?

Posted by: phleabo on April 28, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Chicounsel:

Please reread the fourth amendment and tell me where it says it only applies to gathering evidence for criminal trials:

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.

Posted by: wahoofive on April 28, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

THANK YOU! I emailed this story to Phiily's own Atrios (Duncan Black) figuring he'd tear into the spineless double talking Senator from Pennsylvania. Duncan has yet to - and yours was just the right touch! Let's hope I'm wrong and Specter means it this time.

Posted by: pgl on April 28, 2006 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

If the NSA eavesdropping program is congressionally defunded, Bush will do the exact same thing he did to the already congressionally-defunded TIA program: rename it and relocate the exact same program to a different executive bureau: DoD, Justice, Homeland Security... hell, Treasury. You can defund a specific program, but you can't defund an executive power, which is what George W. Bush (erroniously) believes he possesses in this case.

The Bush Administration has made it very clear it considers itself unconstrained by the legislative (and judicial!) branch on any matter that it construes to be related to national security. It can imprison (without charge, in perpetuity) any American citizen it chooses (simply by unilaterally declaring that citizen to be an agent of a foreign power). It can eavesdrop on any American citizen without a warrant (ditto).

It'd be awesome if we had a legislative branch intent on providing oversight, in order to check such radical notions of executive power, but of course now I speak of utopia.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on April 28, 2006 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

And Bush will tell him to go pound sand.

Posted by: Birkel on April 28, 2006 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with xyz and I don't know how many others that I skipped that Specte will cave. Also I fear that Sen Specter remains confused about the administration he threatens to confront. He said
"What's the use of passing another statute if the president won't pay any attention to it?When you talk about withholding funds, there you're talking about a real authority."

What makes him think that witholding funds has any real authority that the FISA act which provides for a penalty of up to 10 years in prison does not have ? The Bush administration already made it clear that it feels it has the authority to spend money in ways not appropriated by congress when it transfered funds from the war in Afganistan to preparation for invasion of Iraq see
http://www.prospect.org/weblog/2006/04/post_230.html.

Specter should (actually probably does) understand that the Bush administration considers the constitution obsolete. Specifically forbidding spending on warrentless wiretaps would not prevent warrentless wiretaps anymore than FISA did. Specifically forbidding spending on any wiretaps would be extreme and would not prevent warrentless wiretaps anymore than FISA did.

Congress has two weapons left in its arsenal impeachment and prayer. Specter can pray that God tells Bush to obey the constitution, he can pray that the house impeaches Bush or he can (and will) hope that things will just work out and his play acting will win applause.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on April 28, 2006 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

The converse to "Much Ado About Nothing" plays really loud.
Bush will force Congress to impeachment. Much as they wish to drag feet and not get involved it will reach a point where there is no alternative.
Question: by that time will there be any way of censuring Caesar George that translates into action

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Posted by: dsfdsf on April 29, 2006 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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