This week the House considered H.R. 514, legislation to extend three expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act: the "lone wolf" provision, roving wiretaps and access to business records. In 2001, I voted against the Patriot Act because I believed very strongly that it failed to protect our cherished civil liberties. I am still concerned about this and opposed the extension.
The "lone wolf" provision permits surveillance of non-U.S. persons believed to be engaged in international terrorism without first requiring evidence that they are linked somehow to a terrorist organization. The roving wiretap provision allows law enforcement to obtain a wiretap for a single line, which then applies to all phone lines associated with the subject of the wiretap, such as a cell phone or a business phone. The third provision, access to business records, is often referred to as the "library provision". It gives law enforcement access to "any tangible things" during an investigation, including a list of items that a subject has checked out of the library. This provision enlarges the scope of documents that can be sought and lowers the standard requiring a court order for the production of the documents in question.
I have always believed that we must give law enforcement the tools they need to pursue criminals. However, we can do that and still protect our civil liberties. In my opinion, current law does not do that and we shouldn't be extending these provisions. H.R. 514 did receive a simple majority, but because Republican leadership brought it up under suspension of the rules which requires 2/3 support, the bill failed. The House will consider this bill again under a rule that requires only a simple majority for passage, and I expect it to pass at that point.
House Republican leadership is starting to fill in the blanks on what programs and agencies will be cut for fiscal year 2011 and the list, while not surprising, is still discouraging. Many of the proposed cuts will impact our most vulnerable citizens, such as cuts to the Women, Infants and Children's nutrition program, community development service grants, and home heating assistance. There are many areas of the federal budget that we can and should cut, starting with the Department of Defense, but we shouldn't do it at the expense of those who need help the most.
The full list of proposed cuts will be part of the continuing resolution (CR) to fund the rest of the fiscal year and, at this writing, is scheduled to be released sometime today. The Republicans' goal is to find $100 billion in cuts for this fiscal year. The current CR expires March 4th. Because 5 months of the fiscal year have basically already passed, all of the cuts will be applied to the last seven months of the fiscal year, creating real pain for many programs and those who rely on them.
President Obama's FY 2012 budget is expected Monday and there have already been reports that it will include a $2.5 billion cut to LIHEAP --the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. This reduction for FY 2012, along with the proposed reduction for FY 2011, will mean that many Americans simply won't have access to this vital assistance, and many will have trouble keeping warm this winter. If he submits this cut it will be very troubling, and may send the signal that bipartisanship is more of a priority than fighting on behalf of our most vulnerable citizens.
Last week we learned that the unemployment rate stands at 9%, which was considered good news. But there is often more to the story than a simple headline. When we consider everyone who has given up looking for work in this difficult job market, the TRUE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE is really 10.7%. When officials compile labor statistics, these individuals are categorized as "Discouraged Workers and Others Marginally attached to the Labor Force". These are the individuals who have been out of work for so long that they have pretty much given up hope. Now, even when counting them, the unemployment rate is still down from 11.1% a year ago -- but our problems are far from over.
The Department of Labor compiled these statistics which can be found at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t16.htm. For further information, you may visit the Department of Labor website at www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.toc.htm
Everybody talks about creating jobs, but it's time to stop talking and redouble our efforts at job creation. Instead, the new House leadership has focused on trying to repeal health care reform, and on searching for billions of dollars in budget cuts.
We learned today that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down and handed power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, after weeks of protests over his leadership of that country. It had become abundantly evident that the people of Egypt wanted a new leader, and the situation for Mubarak had become untenable. I think he finally made the right decision in stepping down. While events are still unfolding and it is unclear exactly what type of power the military council will wield, it is my hope that an orderly transition of power can be achieved and that the will of the people will prevail.
What's up Next Week
Next week the House is expected to consider a Continuing Resolution to fund the government beyond March 4th.