Congress to cave on spying, again

From the Democrats, brave talk, then the inevitable collapse.

Published October 18, 2007 12:02PM (EDT)

When the Democratically controlled Congress caved in and gave the Bush administration pretty much everything it wanted on wireless wiretapping in August, Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to do better before the new authorization expired six months down the road.

When the New York Times reported earlier this month that the Democrats seemed ready to cave in once again, the Democrats insisted it wasn't so. They introduced -- and got through committees -- the Responsible Electronic Surveillance That Is Overseen, Reviewed, and Effective Act of 2007, a bill Pelosi touted on her blog as a way to "protect and defend the Constitution as we protect and defend the American people."

And so what do we have here?

No surprises, that's what we have.

As the Washington Post reports this morning, House Democratic leaders have pulled the RESTORE Act from the floor, and Senate Democrats have reached agreement with Senate Republicans and the Bush administration on a bill that once again gives the administration pretty much everything it wants -- only this time for six years, not six months. Among the everything: The Post says the Senate deal will provide retroactive immunity for any telecommunications company that can show that it "acted pursuant to a legal directive in helping the government with surveillance in the United States."

We don't know what's more pathetic here: that House Democrats got outmaneuvered by a parliamentary ploy of the GOP -- it was a "cheap shot, totally political," Steny Hoyer whines -- or that, as the Post says, Democratic leaders couldn't keep their own members on board amid Republican accusations that they're "weak on terrorism."

One question: In the wake of Wednesday's collapse, have any Republicans come out and praised the caving Democrats as being "tough on terrorism"?

Right, we didn't think so.

The Democrats who were handed majorities in both houses of Congress in November still haven't accomplished much of anything the voters sent them there to do. Bring the troops home? There are more of them in Iraq now than there were in November. Curtail the Bush administration's spying powers? It has more power now than it did in November. And yet, we'll bet dollars to doughnuts that, come next fall, we'll be hearing all over again about how the Democrats undercut the troops, deny the good guys the right to listen in on al-Qaida and generally hate America.

In the meantime, we'll hear Democrats complain again today about Republican obstructionism, about how the Democrats don't have enough votes to override vetoes and overcome nonexistent filibusters. But the Republicans can't make the Democrats vote for funding to pay for the war. They can't make the Democrats vote for legislation to give the Bush administration more spying powers. If congressional Democrats don't want to vote for such things, they shouldn't vote for them. And if they do, they should stop pretending that they're some kind of meaningful alternative to the Republicans they replaced last year.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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