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Providing for Consideration of H.R. 5544, Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act, and Providing for Consideration of H.R. 5949, FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. POLIS. I thank the gentleman for yielding me the customary 30 minutes, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, I rise in opposition to the rule and the underlying bills--H.R. 5544, the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act, and H.R. 5949, the FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act. There are significant problems in both pieces of legislation. However, both bills are, nevertheless, being brought forward under a restrictive process, despite the efforts of my colleague, Mr. McGovern, to amend the rule to allow for an open rule on amendments on both debates. Unfortunately, that motion failed in the Rules Committee. Instead, this rule is a restrictive process that limits debate and discussion that can improve this legislation.

Let me briefly address the lands law before getting to the FISA bill, which is of great concern to our civil liberties.

We have before us a bill that allows for the exchange of 86,000 acres of Minnesota's school trust lands within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for unidentified Forest Service lands. The wilderness is a critical asset for northeastern Minnesota's tourism and recreation industry, as well as the most popular wilderness area in our Nation's wilderness system. But since the bill doesn't even give details about what public land would be lost, we can't even say how bad a deal this is for the American people. It is simply bad policy to push through a controversial land swap bill without adequate public involvement and participation.

I strike that in contrast to a bill that I recently introduced, H.R. 6370, the Conveyance of the Forest Service Lake Hill Administrative Site. This bill does have accompanying maps that will be made available to the committee so that people can see where the land in question is. It is land that no longer fits the characteristics of forest land, having been deforested near the highway, about 40 acres, and it should not be a controversial bill.

In direct contrast to this bill, the bill I introduced today has support from the counties, towns, and local environmental community, and no local opposition to that bill. On the other hand, Mr. Cravaack's bill doesn't even identify what Forest Service parcels would be sold by the Federal Government and acquired by Minnesota. This kind of ambiguity in a land exchange bill is unprecedented for a land exchange bill and is not providing the adequate information to the Members of this body to make an informed decision on the underlying bill.

Now, let me address FISA--I take issue with a number of elements of FISA--which extends the sweeping electronic surveillance network established under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 for 5 years. I did not support the bill when it came before the House Judiciary Committee on which I serve, and I do not support this bill now.

Now, of course everybody in our country understands the serious threat our Nation faces from terrorist organizations and foreign nations, but we can't give up what makes it special for us to be Americans in the name of defending our country. Our privacy rights should not be eviscerated in the name of national security.

Many of these concerns are addressable, but unfortunately the bill fails to strike an appropriate balance between protecting our liberties and security. Some of its many shortcomings include giving the U.S. Government the ability to intercept U.S. residents' international phone calls and email communications without having to even name the people or groups it's monitoring or show its targets who are suspected of wrongdoing or terrorism. The target could even be a human rights activist, a media organization, a country, a region, an ethnicity. Nothing requires the government to identify its surveillance targets at all, nor are there sufficient parameters around making sure that they are narrowly tailored to our national security needs.

In addition, this bill unfortunately allows the U.S. to intercept communications without having to identify the location, the phone lines, the email addresses to be monitored. In essence, the government can use this new law to collect all phone calls between the U.S. and abroad simply by saying to the FISA court that it was targeting someone abroad and that a purpose of the new surveillance program is to collect foreign intelligence information.

The lack of judicial oversight is also startling. While the FISA courts have a limited role, it's limited to overseeing the government surveillance activities rather than reviewing individualized surveillance applications, including whether they are sufficiently broad or not.

Yesterday, the chair of our committee, Mr. Dreier, also mentioned that Congress itself has an oversight role in making sure that the broad powers given to the Federal Government under FISA are not abused. However, this Congress--and myself, personally--have not had any briefing with regard to the use of FISA.

Now, yesterday, representatives of the Intelligence Committee offered to make those briefings available, but I think the proper order to go about things, if Members of Congress are to make an informed decision about whether these vast powers given to the Federal Government are being used appropriately, would be to have the classified briefing first before bringing a 5-year extension bill to the floor so that Members of Congress, in a classified setting, have access to the information that we need--the information that I need, the information my colleagues need--to make an informed decision about whether the proper controls are in place and the extent of the use and/or abuse of the vast powers given under FISA.

In addition, there are no real limits on how the

government uses, keeps, or disseminates the information it collects. The law doesn't say what government can keep and has to get rid of. Potentially, this could lead to the archiving of material over decades. It fails to place real limits on how and to whom information can be disseminated. Whether it's our U.S. intelligence partners in other countries, whether it's contractors to our own government, we need to have the right controls around where private information is shared.

Finally, I want to address another element of the bill in my initial remarks, and that is the indemnity that is given to companies that violate their own terms of service and allow the government to trample the privacy rights of thousands of Americans.

Effectively, telecom companies and others that provide the government with enormous amounts of information are effectively completely indemnified, so there is no way to hold any of these companies accountable for their activities in violation of their own user agreement signed by two parties, themselves and their customer. There remains no way to enforce the violation of that user agreement because there is complete indemnity for those organizations.

I think there needs to be a way, through the regular court system, to hold companies accountable for their activities. Letting them off the hook entirely only invites widespread abuse and disregard of their own customer agreements. Why bother even having to post or have a privacy policy if, at the whim of the company--not the government, the whim of the company--it can be completely shared with the government in disregard to their own privacy policy because that is the most effective way for the company to receive a blanket indemnification to any civil liability that might arise from violating privacy laws and/or its own terms of use.

Again, national security is a critical imperative. We need to make sure that our agencies charged with keeping us safe have the right tools at their disposal to do so. But in the process of making sure that Americans are safe, we need to make sure we don't give up what makes it special to be an American.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. POLIS. Remarkably, the underlying bill produced by Mr. Cravaack actually uncovered a permanent earmark that the CBO found provides $6 million a year to three Minnesota counties. I think that in a Congress that is supposed to move past earmarks it's not a good precedent to include that earmark in the transition.

I'd also like to clarify that Governor Dayton, while, of course, asking for the land to be exchanged--and there doesn't seem to be disagreement about that--did not ask for NEPA to be short-circuited, nor do they ask to bypass the normal appraisal process.

With that, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Scott), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.


Mr. POLIS. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, Congress will soon leave town again for a long district work period. We believe it is essential that before we go home we must extend tax cuts for the middle class. If we defeat the previous question here today, we will amend the rule to say that Congress needs to stay here to vote on the Middle Class Tax Cut Act and not go home until we've made sure the middle class tax cut extension becomes law and that tax rates do not increase for millions of American families.

To speak about the previous question, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Vermont (Mr. Welch).


Mr. POLIS. Then I am prepared to close, and I yield myself the balance of my time.

Madam Speaker, at a time when millions of Americans continue to struggle to find work, our Federal deficit continues to mount. Here we are in Congress after a 5-week recess--doing what?--considering, one, a faulty land swap deal that is a bad deal for the general public, that contains a hidden earmark and is controversial among local communities in Minnesota, and, two, a major reauthorization bill under a closed process that significantly curtails our liberties as Americans without there being any opportunities for Members of either party to offer suggestions about how to reconcile liberty with security.

Look, Congress' ``to do'' list remains long, and it's steadily growing. The American public is upset that Congress isn't tackling the deficit or the debt. Congress isn't tackling jobs, infrastructure, moving

forward and investing in our future economic growth. Among Congress' unfinished business is a tax increase that will hit the middle class unless Congress acts.

If we defeat the previous question, we will make sure that Congress does not go home before making sure that middle class taxes do not go up. In fact, according to the House Clerk's Office, only 61 bills have become law in 2012. That's the fewest number of bills in 60 years. We only have 7 days that this House of Representatives is working here in Washington in September, yet this Congress continues to refuse to make the hard choices needed to get our economy moving.

It's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work in making sure that we have the ability to protect Americans from threats. Let's do so in an open way that encourages ideas from both sides and that has a classified briefing at which Members of Congress can receive the information we need to suggest how or if FISA needs to be changed before it's authorized for a carte blanche 5 additional years.

It is important to reject both of these underlying rules and these underlying bills. It is time to focus on job creation, deficit reduction, and tax reform, not on trying to rush to the floor an earmark land swap with no map for Minnesota, for what can only be taken to be purely political reasons, as well as there being under a closed process a bill about which many of us have grave concerns and that undermines our right to privacy as Americans.

I urge a ``no'' vote on the rule and the two flawed underlying bills, and I ask unanimous consent to insert into the Record the text of my amendment to the rule, along with extraneous material, immediately prior to the vote on the previous question.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Colorado?

There was no objection.

Mr. POLIS. Madam Speaker, I urge my colleagues to cast a thoughtful vote and to vote ``no'' on the rule and the bills and to defeat the previous question.


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