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?FISA Fight Gets More Interesting

When the House last week passed legislation to renew a controversial domestic wiretapping program, the groans from the Democratic-Party faithful did little to alter the popular prediction that the Senate would follow closely behind. In fact, the upper chamber had scheduled a cloture vote on the bill this morning in hopes of passing the bill later in the week.

But now that schedule’s not so certain. Debate on the Senate housing bill has stalled over tax credits for renewable energy. And the chamber still has to take up bills to fund the Iraq war and prevent Medicare physicians from getting slapped with a 10 percent cut July 1. With the days fast evaporating, there’s some question whether the Senate will tackle FISA before the July 4 recess.

That’s good news for opponents of the bill, particularly Democratic Sens. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Russ Feingold (Wis.), who are leading the rally to gather the 40 votes needed to sustain a promised filibuster. (Dodd gave an impassioned speech last night on the topic.) They’re still plenty of votes shy of killing the bill, but the numbers are rising. Yesterday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced that he’ll join the filibuster effort. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.) have also signaled their opposition. The lawmakers object to language in the House-passed bill that would let the nation’s largest telecoms off the hook for their cooperation in the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

Boxer took the floor yesterday to explain her stance:

Our Constitution is not an extravagance. It is the centerpiece, the very essence of a democracy. It is what our sons and daughters are fighting for abroad. How could we say on the one hand to our soldiers: Go fight for our freedoms, go fight for the freedoms in our Constitution, while at home we are covering up the erosion of those freedoms?

Reid’s office said today that Democrats still hope to get to the FISA bill before Friday. But with the current wiretapping authority still in place until August, Congress has some time to play with.

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