In an attempt to forestall another United States government funding shutdown, Congress passed a bill, signed by the President on November 21, to fund the government for another month. Written within the bill, which garnered bipartisan support, was yet another extension for a Patriot Act spying resolution which will now last until March 2020. Due to expire in December, the resolution allows for the collection of information, often without warrants, amongst other things pertaining to ‘suspected’ foreigners of being terrorists. However, inadvertently this has meant American citizens have been caught up in the spying of foreigners and that the government can still request accidentally stored information about them from various outside organizations or sources.
Aside from the obvious unconstitutional nature of the Patriot Act, and other related statutes used by various federal agencies, this reveals a great problem within the Congress. Plainly, that the reason this legislation will not die is that under recent leadership both chambers do not permit a fair process. Kentucky Representative Thomas Massie, interviewed by The New American, commented that the House leadership suspended the usual rules by a vote, which typically allows 72 hours for each member to read the bills, and disallowed points of order to challenge the funding bill. In order to keep the government funded, preventing another shutdown, and to allow all the elected representatives to leave for the weekend, representatives were backed into voting for everything in the bill – even if they would object to aspects of it. This is somewhat ironic given that some, who would do not generally have enough time to read much of each bill anyway, would not have realized the last vestiges of the Patriot Act were going to be renewed. Massie aptly stated that “instead of debating the merits of warrantless data collection, leadership used the threat of a shutdown to get members to vote for warrantless spying”.
Perhaps groups within the government see this legislation as being too important to die, but Massie and likeminded representatives have a point. Stifling debate because of exceptional circumstances does not mean the proposed legislation will be worth it. After all, some of the Trump administration’s origins, policy outcomes, and current opposition to him using various powers is partially a product of passing bad legislation, like the Patriot Act, and changing the normal congressional proceedings to suit the time. After all, Trump likely would have never become president if he had nothing to attack Bush and Obama over. Given then that there is very little substantive opposition to the President in allowing the continuation of evasive federal governance powers, considering the opposition party effectively agrees to give him all this power (rendering the impeachment process more so that of political theatre), it is no wonder approval ratings for Congress would hardly drop much if the government were to shut down. They have not broken 30% for a decade. Bringing attention back to the Patriot Act though, it is hardly likely to help national security or promote civil liberties when the government through raising the deficit ceiling will end up hurting Americans in the long run.
The answer to this overreach of bloated government, as usual, is not complicated. By having a healthy respect for the citizen and their rights, Congress could go far in eliminating the distrust of institutions and preventing future unnecessary intervention into people’s lives where it is morally questionable to do so. The government can help people much more when it is not engaged in convoluted rules and programmes, which few can understand, and when it does not view its sustainers with unfounded suspicion.