Since 2001, a provision of the Patriot Act has allowed the National Security Agency to collect and store telephone metadata without warrants. Lawmakers exploited the fear generated by the 9/11 attacks and the 2001 anthrax scare to pass the overreaching legislation, ushering in an era of wanton violations of civil liberties by the federal government.
Even so, this key provision was set to expire at the end of the year. But on Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted to keep the worst part of the Patriot Act alive by hiding it in a temporary funding resolution — a perverse tactic that has unfortunately become one of Congress’s worst habits.
Originally intended to sunset in 2005, Congress has reauthorized this Patriot Act provision on multiple occasions, usually resorting to underhanded tactics to do it. With blatantly invasive stipulations and questionable necessity, the law would never survive public scrutiny if given a proper hearing, which is, of course, why House leaders from both parties are determined to prevent it from getting one.
This is far from the first time Congress has made a dirty play using a continuing resolution, which is simply a temporary-funding bill meant to keep government from shutting down. When Congress and the president disagree on how to fund the government for the new fiscal year, they adopt a continuing resolution as an emergency measure to prevent a shutdown. The resolution maintains the status quo and allows Congress and the president more time to negotiate a proper spending bill.