Debate on FISA Expansion Bill Stalls in House

The House had been expected to approve a Democratic overhaul of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, but late Wednesday afternoon, Democratic leaders pulled it from the House floor.

Debate on the bill stalled indefinitely after Democrats failed to beat back a Republican attempt to kill the measure. House Majority leader Steny Hoyer admits that Democrats were in a box, and blamed it on political gamesmanship.

During debate Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the measure would help defend against terrorism threats while protecting the privacy of Americans.

The bill allows surveillance of foreign targets without a warrant, unless those targets are likely to communicate with people in the U.S. In those cases, officials could seek broad, "blanket" warrants from a secret federal intelligence court. Civil libertarians are concerned that could violate the privacy of Americans.

But Republicans say the bill creates too many legal hurdles.

"Rather than working toward speed and flexibility in making sure we give our intelligence officials the tools they need, we are giving more tools and more protections to the people we are trying to defeat," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.

What threw the bill into limbo was a motion by Lamar Smith (R-TX) to send the bill back to committee for an amendment. That amendment would allow any form of surviellance of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida or other designated terrorist groups. Smith says it revealed a fatal flaw in the Democrat's legislation.

"It's whether or not we should be able to listen to Osama bin Laden's phone calls with or without the arduous process of having to get a court order," Smith said.

The prospect of that vote put some Democrats in a difficult position. Now they're regrouping, and leaders say the bill will not come back up in the House this week. On Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee takes up its version of the surveillance bill.

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