Despite fervent behind-the-scenes negotiations in Congress, the passage of another stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded past Jan. 19 is growing increasingly likely. This is primarily due to the contentious split on immigration and the deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program as rank-and-file members in both parties appear to have drawn lines in the sand over what can be included in any compromise. A rumored continuing resolution (CR) would provide funding through the Presidents’ Day holiday next month and include similar short-term fixes for the program deadlines tied to the funding bill, such as the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). While many budget hawks will have serious hesitations about voting for another short-term extension, it seems the most likely outcome given that the current continuing resolution is due to expire in just over a week.
One of the issues tied to a government funding solution — reauthorization of Sec. 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) — is set to be hotly debated in the House today as lawmakers consider a legislative vehicle (S. 139) providing reforms to the program. The controversial legal tool for surveillance provided by Sec. 702 — authorizing U.S. intelligence services to collect electronic communications of non-Americans stored by internet service providers — has split both parties between those who see it as an invaluable intelligence program and those who argue that it is a violation of the civil right to privacy.
The proposal to be considered by the House today would reauthorize the program beyond Jan. 19, but restrict the use of the data in prosecutions of U.S. citizens. An expected amendment backed by Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) would go further in the reform effort by requiring federal agents to get warrants before searching American citizens’ data that is collected incidentally when law enforcement is pursuing a foreign target. It is unclear whether the Amash-Lofgren amendment has the votes to pass, and regardless, it would face an uphill climb to be approved in the Senate. And to add to the confusion on whip counts, President Trump sent a cryptic tweet this morning seemingly siding with the privacy advocates, despite previous White House signals that they would support the more limited version.
Senate floor action today continues to focus on judicial confirmations. Votes are scheduled today on the final confirmation of Michael Brown to be U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Georgia and a cloture vote on Walter Counts to be U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Texas.