WASHINGTON – An upcoming amendment that would prevent the National Security Agency from continuing to collect the phone records of millions of Americans has produced an unusually sharp split between Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and other libertarian-minded conservative lawmakers.
The amendment to a defense spending bill currently under debate in the U.S. House introduced by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) would end the NSA’s authority under the 2001 Patriot Act to collect phone records on people who are the subject of an investigation. The existence of the program was revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last month.
Bachmann, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, was the sole panelist opposed to Amash’s amendment among the ten lawmakers on a panel of conservatives organized by the Heritage Foundation to discuss a variety of topics.
“There is no expectation of privacy. Individuals do not own the records, the records belong to the company,” said Bachmann.
That position puts Bachmann in the unusual situation of siding with the Obama Administration and the bipartisan leadership of both chambers of Congress. The amendment has the backing of a large swath of tea party-allied and liberal lawmakers, which led Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), who supports the amendment, to dub the alliance, “the wingnut coalition.”
Bachmann, who was first elected in 2006 at the height of the war in Iraq later added, “I believe we need to win the war on terror, we need to defeat the goals and aims of Islamic jihad and for that reason I will be voting ‘no’ on the Amash amendment.”
Her opposition inspired a vigorous response from Amash, who also sat on the panel.
“It is very different and if you ask your constituents, you will find the answer that they think they have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their records,” said Amash.
After Amash’s rebuttal, Bachmann repeated her argument that businesses owned such records and that Americans had no reason to expect they could be kept private.
“Then that’s like saying our emails are the property of Google,” retorted Amash.
The House will vote on the Amash amendment Wednesday afternoon.
In a related development, DFL Sen. Al Franken Wednesday penned an op-ed for CNN’s website announcing plans to introduce legislation requiring the executive branch to report annually on how it is using its authority under the Patriot Act to collect information from Americans.