Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate before asking unanimous consent for a 30-day extension of the Protect America Act. Bush Republicans objected on the grounds that it does not provide immunity for the telecommunications companies, once again demonstrating that they are more interested in playing politics and avoiding legal accountability than in keeping Americans safe:
“I want to say a few words about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance issue. Both the House and the Senate have passed bills to strengthen the 1978 FISA law. The House passed its bill in November, and we passed our bill several weeks ago.
“Since Senate passage, the chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary and Intelligence committees have been working hard to resolve differences between the two bills. Democratic staffers have been meeting to work out a strong and broadly-supported final bill, but with the exception of Senator Specter, Republicans have instructed their staff not to participate in these negotiations.
“Today, the Republican Leader asserted on the Senate floor once again that the Senate bill should be jammed through the House. Of course, as my friend the Republican leader knows, that is not how the Congress works. The lawmaking process dictates that the House passes a bill, the Senate passes a bill, and then members from both chambers work through the differences in the bills to reach a compromise. On numerous occasions, the Republican leader himself as has insisted upon following that time-honored method of legislating. On issues like State Children’s Health Insurance, raising the minimum wage, and Iraq war funding, Senator McConnell has refused to just jam a House bill through the Senate.
“But now, he insists that we must jam the Senate bill through the House. Demanding that the House of Representatives pass the Senate’s FISA bill – as is – and refusing to sit down and talk to negotiate differences, accomplishes nothing but needlessly delaying final passage of the bill. I know that my Republican colleagues are just as serious about protecting the safety and security of the American people as are Democrats.
“If the Republican leader is really interested in getting this bill done, I invite him to sit down on Monday afternoon with the House Leadership and Committee Chairmen and work out a final bill. It would not be a painful discussion. It would not take long. It would not be a political exercise – it would be an exercise in responsible lawmaking.
“We should be negotiating on a bipartisan basis. A new FISA law that passes with broad bipartisan support in both houses will provide greater certainty to the intelligence community and make our nation stronger. That can only happen if Republicans take a seat at the table. And it can only happen if President Bush lays aside the overheated rhetoric and embraces bipartisan negotiations.
“In order to facilitate these discussions, we have suggested a temporary extension of the Protect America Act. This would ensure that there are no gaps in our intelligence gathering capabilities while we work toward a long-term solution. That is simple common sense. Even Admiral McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, has testified that an extension would be valuable. But President Bush has threatened to veto an extension, and our Republican colleagues continue to follow his lead in lockstep.
“Never in our nation’s history has national security succumbed to this kind of political posturing. It is time for my Republican colleagues to withdraw their opposition. I will now ask unanimous consent to take up and pass S. 2664, a bill to extend the Protect America Act for 30 days, and to make the extension effective as of February 15, to ensure that there are no adverse legal consequences from the President’s decision to let that law expire.”