Because of last-minute pressure from a recalcitrant Obama administration, the bill contains loopholes that dilute the strong restrictions in an earlier version, potentially allowing the spy agencies to continue much of their phone-data collection.Andrea Peterson at The Washington Post explains why 76 House members voted against their own bill:
Still, the bill finally begins to reverse the trend of reducing civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism, as embodied in various versions of the Patriot Act. And if the Senate fixes its flaws, it could start to rebuild confidence that Washington will get the balance right [...] Several leading senators have said they want a stronger bill, and may do a better job of resisting the administration. Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, wants a strong advocate for civil liberties to argue in the surveillance court (as opposed to simply filing briefs, as the current bill allows) along with other reforms. There is still time for Congress to show that it is serious about reining in the nation’s runaway spies.
On Thursday the House passed a bill aimed at reforming the National Security Agency's bulk collection of domestic phone records in a 303-to-121 vote. But the version of that bill, known as the USA Freedom Act, was different from the one that was recently approved by the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. The new version from the House Rules Committee, privacy advocates say, significantly weakened the reform and included loopholes that could potentially allow bulk data collection on U.S. citizens to continue.Much more on the day's top stories below the fold.
Privacy advocates weren't the only ones upset about the changes. Many co-sponsors of the original version were also concerned. In fact, a Washington Post analysis of the votes shows that 76 of the 152 co-sponsors of the earlier version voted against passage of the altered version on the House floor Thursday. So, half of the co-sponsors ended up voting against what was supposed to be their own NSA reform bill.
Over at Masahable, Brian Ries has a roundup of reactions to the bill:
A surveillance bill aiming to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans' phone records passed the House on Thursday, despite privacy advocates calling it “weak,” “watered-down" and "dangerously broad."Switching topics to the other big story of the day, the Veteran's Administration's handing of patient care, Jay Bookman at The Atlanta Journal Constitution urges the administration to just fix the problem, whatever it takes, and swats down Republican attempts to take advantage of the scandal in the process:
There are few government obligations more sacred than its obligation to those who have helped to defend this country through military service. Recent revelations that veterans have faced long waits for access to medical care, and that bureaucrats in some veterans' hospitals have tried to cover up the system's failure to perform adequately, are simply unacceptable.Meanwhile, Colin Moore, writing at The Washington Post, explains how previous VA scandals have led to real reforms at the VA:
Find the problem. Fix the problem. If people broke the law, prosecute them. If they were incompetent, fire them. [...]
In the meantime, those with larger political agendas have tried to hijack the controversy and twist it to suit their own needs. Rich Lowry, writing in Politico, claims the VA system is "socialist" and calls it an "indictment of the liberal vision." Sen. John McCain wants to give vouchers to veterans so they can seek care in the private system. John Fund says the problems are "a warning sign of what could happen as the pressure to ration, inherent in all government-managed health care, is applied to the general population."
This is utter nonsense [...]
The recent revelations that the Phoenix Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) medical center may have used a secret list to hide its patient waiting times is unfortunate news for an agency that, sadly, is no stranger to scandal. But rather than add my own voice to the chorus of (deserved) criticism, I’d like to look back at a few past VA scandals and the reforms that followed. Throughout its history, the VA’s very public failures have shaped its development as profoundly as its successes. If there is any silver lining to our current outrage, it is that in the past, acts of negligence or corruption have led to dramatic improvements in the care veterans receive.The Boston Globe correctly highlights the context of the VA's problems over the years:
While politicians of each party have chided the other for neglecting veterans, what’s been lacking is a sustained commitment to design a functional system to care for today’s veterans’ needs. President George W. Bush’s administration, which underestimated the number of troops it would deploy in Iraq and Afghanistan, also underestimated the cost and difficulty of caring for veterans of those wars. President Obama, who promised as a candidate to address a backlog of claims at the VA, sought and received more funding for the agency; yet he also made it easier for victims of post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions to come forward — a justifiable policy change that nevertheless added substantially to the VA’s workload.Switching topics, Robert Reich presents "the 4 biggest right-wing lies about income inequality":
Lie No. 1: The rich and CEOs are America's job creators. So we dare not tax them.On a final note, Eugene Robinson writes about the Tea Party and the Republican establishment:
The truth is, the middle class and poor are the job creators through their purchases of goods and services. If they don't have enough purchasing power because they're not paid enough, companies won't create more jobs and the economy won't grow.
What’s happening in the Republican primaries is less a defeat for the tea party than a surrender by the GOP establishment, which is winning key races by accepting the tea party’s radical anti-government philosophy. Anyone who hopes the party has finally come to its senses will be disappointed. Republicans have pragmatically decided not to concede Senate elections by nominating eccentrics and crackpots. But in persuading the party’s activist base to come along, establishment leaders have pledged fealty to eccentric, crackpot ideas.