United States News Digest
House Defies White House Veto Threat Over Wiretap Bill
March 14 (EIRNS)In one of those rare instances in which House Democrats have been willing to stand up to the Bush Administration on national security issues, the House today passed its own wiretap bill, rejecting the retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies which President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have been demanding almost daily. The final vote was 213-197. Congress then left town for a two-week break.
Last night, the House held its first secret session since 1983, to discuss the impasse over the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) bill. Two weeks ago, Democrats had asked for a closed session, and the GOP refused; yesterday, the GOP asked for it, and Democrats agreed. However, some Democrats said afterwards, very little was presented that could not have been discussed in an open session.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, after having reviewed all available classified materials, said that the Administration has not made its case. Conyers and 19 other Democrats from the Judiciary Committee issued a statement on March 12, saying that, after a detailed review of classified material, immunity is not justified, that there are serious concerns about the legality of the program, and that therefore they are recommending the creation of a bipartisan commission to conduct hearings and take evidence on it.
The bill passed today would restore power to the FISA Court, and would create a special commission to examine the legality of the Cheney's "Terrorist Surveillance Program."
The White House has been demanding that the House pass the version passed previously by the Senate without any changes. However, at an American Bar Association forum on March 3, a senior staffer for the Senate Intelligence Committee said that many of the Democratic Senators who voted for the Senate bill, did so in the expectation that it would be modified in conference with the House.
Bill Would Cut Off Funds for U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement
March 13 (EIRNS)Reps. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) announced at a press conference today that they were introducing legislation, that would cut off funds for a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement that has not been submitted to, or approved by the Congress. The bill, titled the "Protect Our Troops and Our Constitution Act," would also enforce the Constitutional requirement that any agreement committing or authorizing U.S. forces to engage in combat on behalf of the government of Iraq, be approved by Congress.
It also urges the Administration to seek the extension of the five-year-old UN Mandate for Multinational Forces in Iraq, which is set to expire in December. This action will ensure that U.S. forces have continued protection from Iraqi and international legal claims as the next President and Congress choose a new direction for U.S. policy in Iraq. This bill is the companion to a bill that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) introduced in the Senate last December. The reason that these bills are being introduced, is that the Bush Administration, since signing the "Declaration of Principles for a Long Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America," on Nov. 26 of last year, is saying that the ongoing negotiations on the proposed security agreement will not lead to the status of a formal treaty, and that input and approval from the Congress is not necessary. The Bush Administration says the long-term security agreement is necessary, because the UN mandate expires in December of this year.
New Evidence: Rumsfeld Lied About Saddam's Ties to al-Qaeda
March 13 (EIRNS)Yet more evidence has emerged that one of the central justifications for the invasion of Iraq, that Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaeda, was a lie. This latest report, however, was produced on behalf of the U.S. military by the Institute for Defense Analysis, and was based on 600,000 pages of captured Iraqi documents, making it particularly sensitive. According to Warren Strobel of McClatchy news service, the study found that Saddam used terrorism against domestic enemies inside Iraq, and that he supported the Palestinian rejectionist groups, but found no documents indicating a "direct operational link" between the regime and al-Qaeda.
The sensitivity of the conclusions of the study were probably behind the abrupt cancellation of a broad release of the report by the Pentagon, within 24 hours after it was available. That release would have included making the authors of the study available to reporters for interviews, and posting it on the Internet, neither of which will now be done. However, the U.S. Joint Forces Command will mail copies on request.
Oregon: Need Health Insurance? Sign Up for the Lottery!
March 13 (EIRNS)Through its state health plan, the Oregon has only enough money to serve 24,000 out of 130,000 low-income adults who lack private health insurance. There are 600,000 people overall in the state who lack any kind of health insurance.
So the state has decided to randomly select 24,000 individuals, lottery-style, out of the 91,000 low-income adults who have asked to enrol in the plan, which served 100,000 people before budget cuts slashed the number of enrollees. Names will be drawn in batches of 3,000 each, until 24,000 people have been chosen. As one official who manages the Community Clinic of Bend, told the New York Times, "[U]sing a random process to decide who gets healthcare is a sign of profound desperation." The lottery idea emerged from a consensus among state officials and advocacy groups that "small steps can help."
Rendell/Rohatyn Turnpike Toll Plan Denounced
March 11 (EIRNS)Pennsylvania's five-term, retiring Rep. John Peterson (R) blasted Gov. Ed Rendell's (D) Rohatyn-style turnpike privatization scheme. "Any legislator who voted for Act 44 and is not now pushing for repeal needs to be replaced," Peterson said to a packed audience in his district. The Clarion News reported, "U.S. Rep. John Peterson pounded on these two themes," ending the toll scheme, and replacing politicians with bad ideas. Calling for the repeal of Pennsylvania's Act 44, passed in July 2007, which allows for tolling to be imposed, he said, 'It's the damnedest piece of legislation I've ever seen. We need to start hammering those who did it. If they don't fix it, they're going to pay the price,' Peterson said."
Hearing on War Powers Act Held in House
March 14 (EIRNS)The first Congressional hearing on H.J. Res 53, "The Constitutional War Powers Resolution," was held March 13 by Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.), chair of the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
After a panel of constitutional experts, including co-chairs of the Constitution Project's War Powers Initiative, former Reps. David Skaggs and Mickey Edwards, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), author of the resolution, gave an impassioned presentation, including a description of his profound change in view of the Iraq War.
Jones stated: "Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants the Congress sole authority to declare war. In 1793, James Madison said, 'The power to declare war, including the power of judging the causes of war, is fully and exclusively vested in the legislature....' "
Jones pointed out that the last time Congress declared war was in 1942, but Presidents of both parties have since engaged in numerous conflicts without the express consent of Congress.
The most important change initiated by Jones is to stipulate when Congressional approval is required. Under the previous 1973 resolution, the President could act in any instance without prior Congressional approval. Under H.J. Res. 53, the President may authorize the use of the Armed Forces prior to Congressional approval only in case of 1) an armed attack upon the U.S.; 2) an armed attack on the Armed Forces outside the U.S.; or 3) an evacuation of U.S. citizens.