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The Void on the Hill

May 2, 2006

So, I’ve finally started to lobby. Last Monday and Tuesday, Ruth and I began lobbying on the NSA Oversight Act, introduced by Representatives Jeff Flake (AZ) and Adam Schiff (CA) in the House. It’s an interesting bill, I think, mostly because its main purpose is to reiterate what is already the law. Now, call me crazy, but Congress shouldn’t ever be in the position of having to remind the president that they had already written a law about something. Anyway, that’s the state we’re in, so I guess we’ve got to live with it.

The NSA oversight act does a couple of almost interesting things beyond reiterating what is already the law. It makes explicit that the domestic wiretapping was not authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which has been one of the administration’s justifications for the NSA program. It also requires classified briefings to the full intelligence committees in both the House and the Senate (which, I believe, is also already the law). And, it requests the president to propose new legislation if, indeed, the current FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) law is not fitting the bill.

Lobbying is a funny thing. There are supposedly tens of thousands of lobbyists in Washington . For the most part the profession doesn’t have the greatest of reputations (for one Abramoff reason or another). And how many organizations have their national offices in Washington , DC ? Given this, and the fact that the spying scandal broke in the headlines more than four months ago, you’d think that somebody would have already visited the offices that we visited last week. Wouldn’t you think that if the president was breaking the law, claiming unprecedented powers, spying on people in the United States without any check, wrecking constitutional balances, that there’d be someone on the Hill lobbying against that? I mean, that’s what I thought. But I was wrong.

This means that there’s a lot of space up on the hill for you too. So, come to a lobby training, train your friends, and go sit down with your legislator. Growing up I always thought that there were people down in Washington doing that work. It turns out, there really aren’t, or at least there aren’t many. And that means that it’s your turn to step up, walk in that Congressman’s office, sit down with a notepad and start changing the world. Because nobody’s going to do it for you.

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