While the most talked-about news out of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday was the defeat of the so-called Amash amendment that would have defunded the NSA’s massive data collection program, another amendment related to NSA spying was quietly passed overwhelmingly by lawmakers.
The Pompeo amendment (championed by Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas) passed the House with a bipartisan vote of 409-12. However, “no one is talking about it,” Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) told TheBlaze on Thursday.
The amendment that passed is reportedly intended to “ensure none of the funds may be used by the NSA to target a U.S. person or acquire and store the content of a U.S. person’s communications, including phone calls and e-mails.”
In contrast, the Amash amendment sought to “end authority for the blanket collection of records under the Patriot Act. It would also bar the NSA and other agencies from using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records, including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation under Section 215.”
Culberson told TheBlaze in a phone interview why he supported the Pompeo amendment over the more sweeping amendment authored by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.).
He argued the amendment properly requires that no funds can be used by the NSA to collect or store the content of American citizens’ communications data. This includes phone calls and emails. The amendment; however, does not seem to restrict the NSA’s ability to continue collecting and storing massive amounts metadata.
The Amash amendment would have prevented the NSA from using any funds to collect any data on persons that are not under investigation.
“This would protect the data of terrorists who are operating sleeper cells in this country and make us vulnerable to future terrorist attacks,” Culberson said of the Amash amendment, adding that it “would do nothing to reform the NSA surveillance program and would do nothing to ensure that the privacy of American citizens is protected.”
The Pompeo amendment may not fully address privacy advocates’ concerns about NSA spying, but those like Culberson feel it’s a step in the right direction.
Though President Barack Obama previously assured the nation that “nobody is listening to your phone calls,” revelations leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden suggest that the spy agency is, in fact, storing — though not necessarily accessing the “content” of individuals’, including Americans — communications data.
Here is the exact phrasing of the Pompeo amendment (emphasis added):
None of funds made available by this Act may be used by the National Security Agency to–
(1) conduct an acquisition pursuant to section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 for the purpose of targeting a United States person; or
(2) acquire, monitor, or store the contents (as such term is defined in section 2510(8) of title 18, United States Code) of any electronic communication of a United States person from a provider of electronic communication services to the public pursuant to section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.
Culberson was highly critical of Snowden, calling him an “idiot” and a “traitor.” He also said President Obama and his administration have demonstrated an “utter disregard for the law.”
“That’s the way to reign in a lawless president,” Culberson told TheBlaze, “by controlling the money.”
The Texas congressman said lawmakers also intend to “rewrite” the Patriot Act sometime this fall and lamented the fact that he and other conservatives were fooled into voting for it the first time around. He said lawmakers were led to believe that the government would only be targeting “overseas foreign nationals whose phone calls were routed through the United States,” not American citizens.
Culberson said Congress has an opportunity to correct some of the unconstitutional provisions found in the controversial legislation. The only thing Congress is allowed to in an appropriations bill, he explained, is turn the funding “on or off.”
Pompeo on Wednesday defended the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, saying the “metadata program is carefully designed with program layers of oversight by all three branches of government. This is precisely the way our government ought to operate: with input from Article I and Article 2 and Article III of the United States Constitution.”
The Pompeo amendment was added to a $598.3 billion defense spending bill for 2014, which the House ended up passing, 315-109.
The overall defense spending bill would provide the Pentagon with $512.5 billion for weapons, personnel, aircraft and ships plus $85.8 billion for the war in Afghanistan for the next budget year.
The total, which is $5.1 billion below current spending, has drawn a veto threat from the White House, which argues that it would force the administration to cut education, health research and other domestic programs in order to boost spending for the Pentagon.
In a leap of faith, the bill assumes that Congress and the administration will resolve the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that have led the Pentagon to furlough workers and cut back on training. The bill projects spending in the next fiscal year at $28.1 billion above the so-called sequester level.
TheBlaze has reached out to Rep. Amash and will update this story should he or his office respond.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the clarification that the Pompeo amendment does not seem to restrict the NSA’s ability to continue collecting and storing individuals’ metadata.
Here is the final roll call vote for the Pompeo amendment via the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives:
H R 2397 RECORDED VOTE 24-Jul-2013 6:47 PM
AUTHOR(S): Pompeo of Kansas Amendment No. 99
QUESTION: On Agreeing to the Amendment
— AYES 409 —
Johnson, E. B.
Lujan Grisham (NM)
Luján, Ben Ray (NM)
Sánchez, Linda T.
—- NOES 12 —
— NOT VOTING 12 —
The Associated Press contributed to this report.