House Passes FISA Bill

The House passed a controversial electronic surveillance measure Friday morning, capping nearly a month of intense debate on the issue.

However, the bill faces little chance of passage in the Senate and a certain veto from the president even if it did, ensuring that debate will continue on the issue into the Spring.

By a vote of 213 to 195, the House passed an update of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that does not include retroactive immunity for telecom companies who aided the government in the program in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The immunity issue has been the key sticking point in the ongoing fight. The Senate passed a bill last month that included an immunity provision, prompting both congressional Republicans and the White House to insist House Democratic leaders take it up.

House Democratic leaders refused, instead drawing up their own version of the measure.

The House proposal does not include blanket immunity,  rather it allows the telecom companies to present their case to a judge behind closed doors. The bill would also create a commission to review the FISA program. The Bush administration has rejected both ideas, branding the bill “dead on arrival.”

House Republicans blasted the measure, arguing that the bill threatens the cooperation of the telecom companies, which they say is crucial to monitoring terrorists' communications.

"These [intelligence gathering] programs will not work in the future wuthout the voluntary compliance of the telecom companies," said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). 
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