WASHINGTON After the terrorist attacks, there was a rush to provide the administration with emergency aid money, new military authority and financial relief for the airlines. But Congress is taking a second look
and a third and a fourth at the administration's anti-terrorism proposal.
Asked about the strikingly different response, Rep. Dick Armey, the House majority leader and a
Republican from Texas, said this week: "This is a tougher area for us to look at than areas that involve money. This is about how we equip our anti-espionage, counterterrorism agencies with the tools they want while we still preserve the most fundamental thing, which is the civil liberties of the American
That concern over civil liberties and the desire to keep careful checks on the government
run deep on Capitol Hill, although they are expressed with the utmost care these days, given the magnitude of the losses and the anger at the terrorists who caused them. Everyone begins their remarks by vowing that law enforcement authorities should be given the tools they need. But there are questions about the balance between civil liberties and national security in the
The result is that legislation that Attorney General John Ashcroft asked Congress to pass in a matter of days last week is now the subject of intense negotiations among Democrats, Republicans and the administration. Some provisions will apparently be dropped, others substantially revised. Lawmakers say they still hope to move legislation through the committees next week, but they also say that it is critical to first reach a broad consensus.
"I'm not going to bring a bill to the floor that's going to be attacked by the left and the
right," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy,
D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, "because its not going to go
Sen. Arlen Spector, R-Penn., is worried about the administrations proposal to allow the indefinite detention of immigrants if they are deemed to be threats to national security. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., shares those objections.
Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts, wants to ensure that, if the government gets the new surveillance powers, there are also new remedies against those in the government who release
inappropriate, personal information. At a hearing this week, he recalled the wiretapping of Martin Luther King Jr. by J. Edgar
Hoover's Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Armey voiced a similar concern but reached back to a more recent precedent: the gathering of FBI files on Republican officials by aides in the Clinton White House.
"There are a lot of members that are acutely aware of the fact that the agencies don't
always exercise due diligence in the way they handle information," Armey said.
"I draw my case by raw FBI files apparently being turned over to political operatives at a
moment's notice, and that sticks in a lot of peoples' craw in terms of the security of who you are in your life and what right the government has to share that
Rep. Bob Barr, a Republican of Georgia, has been one of the House Judiciary
Committees most vocal critics of the administration's legislation. Barr argues that some provisions in the proposal –
for example, new money laundering statutes to cut off financing to terrorist organizations
– are areas of consensus and could be passed quickly. But others, he says, need careful scrutiny, such as allowing a wider use of material obtained in grand juries.
Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat of California, declared at the House committee's hearing this week that while many lawmakers had
"bent over backwards" to rally behind the administration, "we have to draw the line" when it comes to civil liberties.
Waters said she feared that the definition of terrorism in the administrations bill was too wide. She concluded,
"I find myself agreeing with Mr. Barr, and that is very unusual."
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., a House Judiciary Committee member, was pleased with the decision by Rep. James
Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who is the committee chairman, to postpone action on the bill until next week.
The first victory was the idea that were actually going to deliberate and take some time before we report a
bill, Scott said.
He noted that it was not clear whether some of what the administration wanted would pass constitutional muster.
Some lawmakers say that the indefinite detention of immigrants will not survive in the final legislation. Other provisions are also being substantially rewritten. Grover
Norquist, a political strategist, said the process was a good one.
"Things are slowed down now to the point where there's an honest, serious discussion about what points are useful and what are
not," Norquist said. "I'm very encouraged that the civil liberties left has not taken the position that the administration
doesn't need any additional powers. And I haven't heard anything from the establishment that whatever additional powers you want to give the government are all right with
The buzzword on Capitol Hill is balance.