"We've come to love our fears more than we love our freedoms," Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) mused on the House floor just before that chamber voted 315-97 (with 20 members not voting) to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act without any changes for yet another year.
By now, you know the stakes — the tweaks that could have been made to guarantee that Patriot powers are used only against suspected terrorists or spies and to mandate continued reporting to ensure that we actually learn about current and future Patriot abuses. Many of these fixes were, in fact, included in prior iterations of Patriot reauthorization bills introduced in both the House and the Senate.
As Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) pointed out to her colleagues, "I think we are missing an opportunity. There are good ideas in this House about how to curb the abuses with national security letters, how to clarify that roving wiretaps are limited to a single identifiable target, and how to eliminate the lone wolf provision which has never been used and for which existing title III authority can suffice. Those ideas have been the subject of hearings in the Judiciary Committee, but they're not being debated on this floor . . . I think this is a real missed opportunity."
We couldn't agree more. So, in the spirit of the Olympics, here's how the House scored on Patriot Reauthorization for courage, upholding the Constitution, and understanding that we can be both safe and free, on a scale of 1 to 10:
There is one other category of Congresspeople that is worth special mention. Those are the folks who voted for — and spoke in favor of — reauthorization but with the caveat that Congress should use the next year to really examine the effects of the USA Patriot Act and return to it in 2011 ready to make much-needed changes. Now, of course, we'd been telling them to use this past year to do just that. But, we'd like to take Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) at their word this time. We'll give them a 4.
Meanwhile, we'll keep the pressure on.