Public Opinion and Public Choice Lessons in the Brewing FISA Battle

by on January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

Previewing his Monday State of the Union address, President Bush’s radio address today highlights the economic stimulus package and the push to give telecom companies immunity in the FISA bill.

The other urgent issue before Congress is a matter of national security. Congress needs to provide our intelligence professionals with the tools and flexibility they need to protect America from attack. In August, Congress passed a bill that strengthened our ability to monitor terrorist communications. The problem is that Congress set this law to expire on February 1st. That is next Friday. If this law expires, it will become harder to figure out what our enemies are doing to infiltrate our country, harder for us to uncover terrorist plots, and harder to prevent attacks on the American people.

Congress is now considering a bipartisan bill that will allow our professionals to maintain the vital flow of intelligence on terrorist threats. It would protect the freedoms of Americans, while making sure we do not extend those same protections to terrorists overseas. It would provide liability protection to companies now facing billion-dollar lawsuits because they are believed to have assisted in efforts to defend our Nation following the 9/11 attacks. I call on Congress to pass this legislation quickly. We need to know who our enemies are and what they are plotting. And we cannot afford to wait until after an attack to put the pieces together.

We may learn a lot about American public opinion on terrorism in the next few weeks.

If the Democratic Congress holds the line on immunity in the FISA bill and weathers the partisan attacks that follow, we’ll know that the administration’s terror-pandering has finally worn thin.

If Congress capitulates, we’ll re-learn the basic tenets of Public Choice theory holding that politicians are risk-averse and much more interested in reelection than principled policymaking.

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