The House of Representatives passed a $598.3 billion defense spending bill Wednesday, while rejecting an amendment to the bill that would have challenged the National Security Agency’s collection of millions of Americans’ phone records, in a debate that clashed privacy rights against the fight to thwart terror.
The defense spending bill passed 315 to 109. The amendment was voted down 217-205 on an issue that created unusual political coalitions in Washington, with libertarian-leaning conservatives and liberal Democrats pressing for the change against the Obama administration, the Republican establishment and Congress’ national security experts.
94 Republicans and 111 Democrats voted for the amendment, while 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats voted no.
The showdown vote marked the first chance for lawmakers to take a stand on the secret surveillance program since former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden leaked classified documents last month that spelled out the monumental scope of the government’s activities.
It is unlikely to be the final word on government intrusion to defend the nation and Americans’ civil liberties.
“Have 12 years gone by and our memories faded so badly that we forgot what happened on Sept. 11?” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the Intelligence committee, said in pleading with his colleagues to back the program during House debate.
Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, chief sponsor of the repeal effort, said his aim was to end the indiscriminate collection of Americans’ phone records.
After the vote, Amash could barely hide his frustration, telling reporters: “Ask the American people if the House did the right thing.”
His measure, offered as an addition to the defense spending bill, would have canceled the statutory authority for the NSA program, ending the agency’s ability to collect phone records and metadata under the USA Patriot Act unless it identified an individual under investigation.