Last week, Idaho Congressmen Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador, both Republicans, split votes on a measure that would have ended funding for secretive government monitoring of Americans’ phone calls.
On top of that, the two legislators, who’ve been at odds at times this year, had harsh words for anyone who voted the opposite way on the funding.
The measure, called the Amash Amendment because Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan led the charge to attach the language to the 2012 defense budget, would have cut funding for the National Security Agency’s phone data collection program, an operation authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
While the NSA says it doesn’t listen to content phone calls, it does track numbers, dates and call duration. The Amash Amendment would have limited that power, only giving the NSA the authority to track calls of Americans suspected of terrorism or under criminal investigation.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives killed the amendment on a 205 to 217 vote, a tally closer than analysts and pundits projected.
Simpson voted to sustain the funding, while Labrador voted to kill it.
“While it’s reasonable that the government must engage in secret operations from time to time, the NSA program—as it’s currently practiced—goes too far,” Labrador told IdahoReporter.com. “It violates the Fourth Amendment and reaches beyond the intent of the Patriot Act, as Rep. James Sensenbrenner—one of the authors of the original Patriot Act—acknowledged.”
Simpson said that while he acknowledges the need for review of the NSA’s pervasive monitoring of calls, he feels the Amash Amendment went too far.
“Our nation's ability to combat terrorism and the sanctity of our Constitution are much too important to be rushed through Congress in the haphazard fashion put forward by Rep. Amash and his supporters,” Simpson wrote last week.
The vote featured some curious alliances that cut across traditional partisan lines. Simpson, for example, sided with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to sustain the NSA’s snooping program.
Simpson, Boehner and Pelosi also aligned with President Barack Obama’s administration, which blasted the Amash Amendment early last week.
Labrador, on the other hand, joined with Amash and Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan, in an attempt to end the funding.
Simpson and Labrador each took shots at federal lawmakers who voted the opposite way on the Amash measure.
“Those members who voted to protect the NSA programs have forgotten that our duty is to protect our nation without surrendering our civil liberties,” Labrador wrote.
“We don’t need a thoughtless, visceral reaction that hurts our national security without protecting civil liberties,” Simpson said. “What we do need is good government oversight that leads to effective reforms that protect American lives and liberties.”
Though Amash and others failed to restrict the program, reform may still come. Several U.S. senators, including Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, are exploring ways to restrict the NSA’s spying on Americans.
Labrador told IdahoReporter.com he sees progress, even in defeat. “While we came up a bit short, momentum is clearly on our side,” he said.
Chad Inman, president of Tea Party Boise, lauded Labrador and blasted Simpson in an interview with IdahoReporter.com.
“How much more anti-liberty can a congressman from Idaho be?” Inman asked, referring to Simpson. “Voting with Nancy Pelosi to continue watching citizens that have done nothing wrong is not what we are looking for in congressional representatives.”