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House Easily Passes Spying Bill

Well, that was quick. Twenty-four hours after congressional lawmakers finalized a compromise to expand the White House’s spying powers, the House approved it without much fuss. The count was 293 to 129, with the opposition coming almost exclusively from liberal Democrats. (One Republican, Illinois Rep. Timothy Johnson, voted against the bill.)

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who was central to the negotiations, conceded that the proposal is not ideal, but claimed it represents “the best bill before us that we could possibly get in the current environment.”

That environment, of course, includes a White House that was intent on vetoing any proposal that lacked immunity for the telecoms. President George W. Bush applauded negotiators of both parties for including the immunity provision:

It will help our intelligence professionals learn our enemies’ plans for new attacks. It ensures that those companies whose assistance is necessary to protect the country will themselves be protected from liability for past or future cooperation with the government.

Not everyone was so enthusiastic. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) summarized the critics’ objections:

I recognize the need to modernize our surveillance laws and have been willing to make adjustments to improve them, but sacrificing our basic civil liberties and granting de facto immunity to telecommunication companies that may have violated the law to appease the Bush administration is simply unacceptable.

Hinchey et al will have some time to rethink their opposition strategy. The law sunsets in 2012.

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