Congress

  • Patriot ActPrivacy concerns potentially an obstacle to 1 June Patriot Act reauthorization

    With the USA Patriot Act set to expire on 1 June, lawmakers are debating whether the bill, which allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect bulk metadata of U.S. phone records, should be extended. The act was last renewed in 2011, before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed details of the U.S. intelligence agency’s surveillance activities. The debate around the reauthorization of the Patriot Act focuses on Section 215 of the law, used by the NSA to mass collect phone records in an effort to locate terrorists who might be calling supporters in the United States.

  • CybersecuritySenate panel passes revised cybersecurity bill, but privacy concerns remain

    Last Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committeepassed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act(CISA) meant to encourage the private sector to share data with federal agencies, with the hopes of preventing and responding to cyberthreats before they materialized. The bill is a reincarnation of the 2013 Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act(CISPA), which drew a veto threat from President Barack Obama because of privacy concerns. Critics say that CISA, as was the case with its predecessor, would create a legal framework for companies to more closely monitor internet users and share that data with government agencies.

  • IranIran letter may be a failed experiment or a sign of things to come

    By Peter Spiro

    Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) sparked a political firestorm with his 9 March open letter to the leaders of Iran, co-signed by forty-six of his colleagues. The letter warns Iranian negotiators that President Obama’s successor could cancel any agreement with the United States not approved by the Senate as a formal treaty. Cotton’s observations on U.S. treaty law are facile at best, the stuff of an elective constitutional law course. It is not the substance that has rankled so many Washington observers, however, it is the form. Many described the letter as a “breach of protocol,” as if it has been out of institutional politesse that members of Congress have historically refrained from this kind of direct communication with foreign leaders. That understates the case considerably. Established constitutional doctrine holds that presidents have exclusive authority to engage foreign governments on the nation’s behalf. If this principle – sometime called John Marshall’s “sole organ” doctrine, after Chief Justice Marshall – is not followed, and if politics does not stop at the water’s edge, the result will be a free-for-all foreign policy, a scaling up of the polarization already endemic to domestic politics. No one should welcome the prospect, but it may become a fact of life. Expect presidents to up the ante by taking more aggressive unilateral measures, further reducing the possibility of inter-party cooperation. The 9 March letter may be a peek at a new kind of politics beyond the water’s edge, requiring new kinds of navigation.

  • BlimpsNew House caucus to promote blimps as cost effective means for cargo transport

    To the general public, airships are familiar for their use as advertising blimps, but transportation engineers see airships as large, low-emissions transportation vessels which can carry large amounts of cargo into areas that lack infrastructure such as runways.The newHouse Cargo Airship Caucus aims to increase financial support for the use of lighter-than-air vehicles for carrying military cargo and humanitarian aid. “The unrealized potential [of blimps] is vast,” says one expert.. “Lack of funding is a big killer.”

  • Immigration & agricultureAgriculture groups say bill would disrupt farming operations, decrease food production

    The Legal Workforce Act(LWAH.R. 1147), introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and approved this week by the House Judiciary Committee, could disrupt farming operations if it passes Congress. LWA requires employers in the United States, within three years, to use E-Verifyto verify whether employees are legally allowed to work in the country. Ag industry groups say that passing LWA without some sort of immigration reform for agricultural workers could lead to a $30 billion to $60 billion decrease in food production. The ag industry also notes that each of the two million hired farm employees supports two to three fulltime American jobs in the food processing, transportation, farm equipment, marketing, retail, and other sectors.

  • DHS budgetDHS shutdown averted as House passes “clean” funding bill

    The House yesterday voted to fund the Department of Homeland Security to the end of the fiscal year, without conditioning the extension on defunding the implementation of Obama’s immigration executive order. The “clean” funding bill passed on a 257-167 vote, with seventy-five Republicans joining all 182 Democrats to avert a shutdown. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in a rare move for a speaker, left his chair and went to the House floor to cast a vote in favor of the funding extension. In a speech to the Republican caucus on Tuesday, just before Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress, Boehner presented members of the caucus with three options: another stopgap bill, taking up a “clean” bill which has already passed the Senate, and a Friday-into-Saturday shutdown of DHS. Boehner told fellow Republicans that he did not want to run the risk of a DHS shutdown, which, he stressed, “wasn’t an option” with the current level of threats to national security.

  • CybersecurityTexas lawmakers on the Hill lead drive for cybersecurity legislation

    After recent high-profile cyberattacks on the U.S. private sector, Congress has been tasked with passing legislation that will address cybersecurity concerns including how the private sector should report data breaches to regulators and how the U.S. government should respond to state-sponsored cyberattacks. Three Texas Republican lawmakers, through leadership roles in committees and subcommittees, have been charged with exploring solutions to those concerns.

  • Patriot ActClapper: Congress would be blamed if Section 215 is not renewed -- and “untoward incident” occurred

    James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said that if Congress failed to reauthorize a controversial provision of the Patriot Act by June, then lawmakers who opposed the renewal of the provision – Section215 – would bear the blame if a terrorist attack, which could have been prevented by actions Section 215 permits, happened. Clapper said that if Congress decided not to renew the Patriot Act, or decided to renew it without Section 215, and an “untoward incident” occurred as a result, he hopes “everyone involved in that decision assumes responsibility” and does not just blame the intelligence community.

  • Real IDIllinois scrambles to meet Real ID deadline

    State officials in Illinois are working to make driver’s licenses and identification cards comply with the Real ID Act of 2005before commercial air travel restrictions are implemented in 2016. Illinois identification cards do not meet minimum standards mandated by Congress in 2005. The Real ID Act requires states to verify personal information of applicants including birth certificates. The information is then electronically scanned and stored in a federal database, and data can be shared among states and the federal government.

  • DHS fundingHouse votes for one-week extension of DHS funding

    On Friday, just hours before the partial shut-down of DHS, the House Republican leadership, with the help of Democratic lawmakers, managed to secure a majority for a one-week extension of the funding for the department. The vote for a one-week extension passed 357 to 60 — but not before a humiliating defeat for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and members of the GOP House leadership. The leadership was convinced it had the votes for a three-week extension, but that proposal was defeated when more than fifty Republican lawmakers bolted and voted against the bill – and their leaders. Democrats lawmakers then came to the help of the speaker, voting for the one-week extension on what they regard as a tacit understanding that toward the end of this week the House will vote on a “clean” extension of the DHS budget to the end of the fiscal year.

  • Chemical facilities safetySecurity at U.S. chemical plants, and monitoring that security, still fall short

    Security experts, citing a critical Senate report, are warning that the effort by industry and the government to secure U.S. chemical facilities against terrorist attacks has so far been lackluster at best. The Senate report, sponsored by former Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), found that after eight years and $595 million dollars spent on efforts to further chemical plant security, there had been only thirty-nine compliance inspections of the 4,011 national facilities at risk. In any event, the current chemical facility security policies apply only to a fraction of the facilities which produce, store, or transport toxic materials around the country. The experts hope that H. R. 4007, which reformed and renewed the 2007 Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), and which became Public Law No: 113-254 on 18 December 2014, will improve and accelerate the security work needed at U.S. chemical facilities.

  • DHS budgetMcConnell’s DHS budget plan: “No” to 2014 exec. order, “Yes” to 2012 one

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has put forth a plan to avoid a DHS shutdown after Senate Democrats on Monday refused to approve a Republican-backed $40 billion DHS appropriation which would defund President Barack Obama’s 2014 immigration actions in order to fund DHS. McConnell’s plan would eliminate Obama’s 2014 immigration action to extend deportation deferment to some undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents via the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans(DAPA), but allow a similar 2012 planfor younger undocumented immigrants to continue.

  • DHS budgetDHS shutdown would have only limited immediate impact on national security: Analysts

    If Congress fails to act before the 27 February funding deadline, most DHS operations would continue. During the October 2013 government shutdown, 85 percent of DHS employees remained on the job. Just a little over 30,000 of the department’s 230,000 employees, mostly in managerial and administrative positions, were furloughed.

  • ImmigrationUndocumented immigrants begin application process as Congressional impasse continues

    While Congress remains in a stalemate on DHS funding and immigration reform, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, on Wednesday, will begin accepting applications from those eligible for an expanded program granting work permits and deportation deferrals to undocumented immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children (DREAMers).

  • DHS budgetSenate Democrats block vote on House’s DHS budget bill

    In late 2014, Republicans decided to fund DHS only through the end of February 2015 in hopes of using further funding request conditioned on defunding the implementation of President Barack Obama’s executive order to halt deportations for many undocumented immigrants. Senate Democrats, on the other hand, are demanding a DHS funding bill which does not interfere with Obama’s immigration plans. On Thursday, for the fourth time, Senate Democrats blocked the Republican move to pass a bill which defunds Obama’s executive order.