After two days of debate and internal bickering, the U.S. Senate will vote Tuesday on a measure that would reform the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled a vote on three amendments to the USA Freedom Act, which ends the NSA's massive collection of Americans' telephone data. The amendments, proposed by Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr, include extending the bulk collection program from six months to one year -- twice the amount of time called for in the version of the bill the House overwhelmingly approved last month.
But two high-ranking members of the House Judiciary Committee, Republican chairman Bob Goodlatte and ranking Democrat John Conyers, issued a statement Monday rejecting the amendments.
"These amendments only serve to weaken the House-passed bill and postpone timely enactment of legislation that responsibly protects national security while enhancing civil liberty protections," wrote Goodlatte and Conyers. They warned the full House would not accept the changes if they are approved by the Senate, which would permanently end several provisions of the U.S. Patriot Act, passed by Congress after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, that allowed the government's domestic surveillance program.
The provisions ended Sunday after the Senate failed to pass the House-approved measure, which would allow the NSA to request the telephone data from phone companies on a case-by-case basis. The final vote has been blocked by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, who is seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Paul has denounced the NSA program as a violation of Americans' privacy, and says the House bill does not go far enough in reforming it.
But Republican Senator John McCain, who lost the 2008 presidential election to President Barack Obama, said Paul "obviously has a higher priority for his fundraising and political ambitions than for the security of the nation."
Obama has come out in support of the House's version of the USA Freedom Act. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Monday the legislative standoff has introduced unnecessary risk for the United States.
The telephone data collection from millions of calls was first revealed two years ago by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, now living in asylum in Russia. It included phone numbers, the dates and duration of calls, but not the content.
Without the new authorization, the NSA also has been forced to at least temporarily shut down two other programs, including a "lone wolf" tracking provision that has never been used and a roaming wiretap program.