DownsizeDC.org
August 2, 2006
Urgent Action Item
By Jim Babka
Today's Downsizer-Dispatch... Folks, we have an urgent action item. Some of you prefer we get right to it. We need maximum action right now. So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going give you a brief action item, and then add some additional information below the item. If you just want to read the action item and do it - ASAP - that's fine. But if you want more details, you can read on. It's up to you. ACTION ITEM The Bill of Rights Defense Committee reports... "Senator Arlen Specter's solution for the President's refusal to obey U.S. law requiring warrants for wiretapping Americans is to change the pesky law in order to make the President's warrantless wiretapping program legal. Thousands of faxes and phone calls have flooded Senate offices... But Specter seems determined to fulfill his promise to the administration: to pass his National Security Surveillance Act, S. 2453, which would make the prevailing law on domestic wiretaps, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), optional. The Senate Judiciary Committee that Senator Specter chairs will take up S. 2453 on Thursday, August 3." DC Downsizers, the earlier you can kill a bill, the more likely you are to defeat it. If a vote is taken, the bill is likely to pass the committee along party lines, paving the way for a full Senate vote in September. That's why we want them to delay voting on it. If the committee doesn't vote, we have time to turn up the pressure during the August recess and possibly kill what we've called the "Specter-Cheney betrayal" entirely. Because the Judiciary Committee could take this up tomorrow, we must act quickly and decisively. That means send a message NOW using our Electronic Advocacy system. If you see your member on the list below, tell them to vote no or to delay the vote until after the August break. Encourage them to talk to their constituents, particularly if they're on the campaign trail. Here's the personal comment I wrote to my Senators. "The bill in question is now designated S. 2453. It's morphed a great deal over the past couple of weeks, making this case difficult for even those of us who stay informed. Instead of passing this bill, I urge you to investigate the President's program and its effect on the privacy of Americans. This is not the time for Congress to pass legislation legalizing a secret program it does not understand. Did you know, for example, that this legislation opens the door to even more secret surveillance programs?" If your Senator is on the list below, due to the urgency of the situation, we encourage you to ALSO call them. This is simple. Be polite. State your name and city. Make a note of a single sentence you'd like to say before you call. Here's what I said when I called my Senator, Mike DeWine, who is battling to keep his job in the U.S. Senate. "Hi, my name is Jim Babka and I'm a constituent from... and I have a message for the Senator (pause). I'm calling to encourage the Senator to either vote against Senator Specter's bill, S. 2453 - the domestic wiretap bill - or to persuade the fellow members of his party on the Judiciary Committee that it would be best to take at least the month of August to talk with constituents before making a final decision." Arlen Specter (R)- CHAIRMAN, PENNSYLVANIA - 202-224-4254 Orrin G. Hatch (R)- UTAH - 202-224-5251 Patrick J. Leahy (D)- VERMONT - 202-224-4242 Charles E. Grassley (R)- IOWA - 202-224-3744 Edward M. Kennedy (D)- MASSACHUSETTS - 202-224-4543 Jon Kyl - ARIZONA (R)- 202-224-4521 Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D)- DELAWARE - 202-224-5042 Mike DeWine (R)- OHIO - 202-224-2315 Herbert Kohl (D)- WISCONSIN - 202-224-5653 Jeff Sessions (R)- ALABAMA - 202-224-4124 Dianne Feinstein (D)- CALIFORNIA - 202-224-3841 Lindsey Graham (R)- SOUTH CAROLINA - 202-224-5972 Russell D. Feingold (D)- WISCONSIN - 202-224-5323 John Cornyn (R)- TEXAS - 202-224-2934 Charles E. Schumer (D)- NEW YORK - 202-224-6542 Sam Brownback (R)- KANSAS - 202-224-6521 Richard J. Durbin (D)- ILLINOIS - 202-224-2152 Tom Coburn (R)- OKLAHOMA - 202-224-5754 MORE INFORMATION Yesterday, we were invited to sign a letter to Senator Specter and the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was written by the ACLU, and it is being signed by dozens of groups from across the political spectrum. And that brings up two key points. First, there is a coalition at work here. DownsizeDC.org is now involved in it. Emails are flying back and forth. We're having weekly phone conferences. There's lots of activity.
  • We have people tesifying and communicating with Hill staff.
  • Others are helping generate messages, just like DownsizeDC.org is doing.
  • Still others have events on the ground planned back home in the district, especially for the Senators in re-election campaigns.
  • Others are talking to the media.
  • Still others are investigating legal options should this bill go forward.
This inspires me with confidence that we can actually win this pitched battle. Please allow me to go down a rabbit trail here... One of the inspiring events for the creation of our Electronic Advocacy system was the Medicare Prescription Drug vote in the House. You may remember that this 15 minute scheduled vote was kept open nearly 3 hours, in the wee hours of the morning, when Congress was already supposed to be back home in their districts, snuggled in beds, with visions of Thanksgiving turkey in their heads. During the vote, one Congressman was allegedly threatened and offered a bribe, a cabinet member prowled the halls and perhaps even the floor, and the President of the United States was calling members, including freshmen (very rare), and offering to buy their votes with taxpayer goodies for their district or extraordinary campaign assistance. Defeating this bill was going to require defections from the President's party. The votes were lined up to defeat it. But the pressure worked and two freshmen members who'd promised just a couple of weeks before that they'd never bend, broke. They voted for the bill and then a couple of others, seeing the handwriting on the wall, changed their votes and the largest entitlement expansion since the creation of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society was passed. At the time, it seemed like those freshman were only hearing from the leadership of their party and not from the people. I wondered aloud, if they knew the folks back home were paying attention to their stand, and that those same folks were supporting it, would they have wavered? Given what I was told about their resolve beforehand, I think they were simply overwhelmed during that extraordinary rule-breaking night. I wondered if a voice like DownsizeDC.org would've heartened their resolve. Just like then, we're talking two votes here. I think we can win this one, if we're intense, if we keep going regardless of what happens in the Judiciary Committee, and if we play our cards right. Which bring me to the second point. The experts who are following this closely think that this vote in the Judiciary Committee will be along party lines. If you count the list above, there are 10 Republicans and 8 Democrats. If they're right, and we can sway just two Republicans, we stop this bill. We kill it in its cradle. If we can sway two Republicans to call for more time and a chance to talk to their constituents during the August recess, we increase our odds of success. It gives us additional time to organize and get the word out. And the election serves as a squeeze play. Trust me, some of these guys know this and want to get this vote out of the way. We should push for defeat, and if not defeat, delay. Please act now. If you live in one of the aforementioned states, please call immediately. Now, as a writer, I know you're supposed to lead with your best stuff. The format of today's message is a little upside down. So, I'm closing with the most dramatic and important point. THIS BILL WILL GUT THE FOURTH AMENDMENT. On one of these conference calls, a gal from the ACLU who was a veteran of the Patriot Act battle last year, said something like, "This is worse than the Patriot Act." Why would she say that? Well, it essentially guts the Fourth Amendment - your protection from warrantless searches. The FISA court is a rubber-stamp, approving a whopping 99% of the requests made of it. And that's just one detail. It gets worse and just how bad is well told by James Bovard here. But at least FISA pretends to pay homage to the Constitution, it slows overzealous prosecution down, and there is that 1%. One extraordinary clause of Specter's bill exempts the administration from nearly all of the FISA rules if war is declared. It's an extraordinary loophole. In a time when the President of the United States shows wanton disregard for the checks and balances of the Constitution by signing over 700 "signing statements" (more than all other Presidents combined), essentially saying what parts of the law (which he just signed) that he intends to obey or disregard, one can easily see the meaning of words changing to suit his policy. We know from past experience, that the meaning of words like "is" can be changed to suit political ends. Back in the early 90s, Congress passed a deficit reduction act (Gramm-Rudman), designed to limit their spending. But they left a loophole called, "emergency." An emergency for you or me, back in the real world, is, "a serious situation or occurrence that happens unexpectedly and demands immediate action." But not so for Congress. For them, it's now an accounting term. Every time they want to bust the budget, they declare an emergency and work "off the books." For example, they fund the troops in Iraq with Emergency Appropriations. Funny, didn't they know they had troops there when the passed the last budget? Let me give you just a single Big Brother example using the words "war" and "terrorism" of just how serious this problem might be. Once this bill is passed, how would war be defined? Well, we already have a "war on drugs." And we already treat terror suspects differently than other criminals. How long before people who have a so-called "commercial quantity" of marijuana become "terrorists" and warrantless searches are done on these folks. Do you think I'm overstating the case? Well, I'm in good company. You see, there were folks in the early 90s saying that the Gramm-Rudman emergency exception made the whole bill a joke. They were accused of hyperbole. I urge you to take action now. In addition, we need to send as many messages as possible. Please, tell your friends. Do it now. Jim Babka President DownsizeDC.org, Inc.
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