Dems Play FISA Right (Again?!)

It took them long enough, but the Democrats finally are making parliamentary maneuvers work for them, not against them. Regarding FISA, they’ve boxed the Republicans into a corner where Republicans would have to affirmatively argue that granting telecoms retroactive immunity would be a good idea–an unenviable job, if there were ever one. Here’s how they did it (italics mine):

The RESTORE Act, H.R. 3773, passed the House last year without including retroactive amnesty for the telecom companies and sent it on to the Senate.
When the Senate took up the issue, it opted not to deal with H.R. 3773, but instead passed its Rockefeller-backed FISA bill (S. 2248) that did include retroactive amnesty. And there was a tremendous uproar among immunity opponents over the procedure the Senate used, making the Bush-backed Rockefeller legislation the base bill, and the immunity-free Judiciary committee bill the substitute, creating an uphill battle for the fight against immunity. That situation created a lot of ill will toward Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Everyone remembers that.
But here’s the interesting part. Rather than send S. 2248 to the House once it passed, Reid sent the bill on a little detour. With the unanimous consent of the Senate, he stripped out the language of H.R. 3773 and substituted in the language of S. 2248, vitiated the passage of S. 2248, and sent the amended H.R. 3773 back to the House.
That put the House in the position of considering the Senate amendment to H.R. 3773, as opposed to the original version of S. 2248. What difference does that make? Well, it makes no substantive difference, in that H.R. 3773 as amended now included retroactive immunity, along with all the other garbage we didn’t want the Senate to pass.
But as I’ve stressed a number of times, control of procedure can, in the end, control the substantive outcome.
So, what’s a House that’s opposed to retroactive immunity to do? Amend H.R. 3773 to take it back out, of course. And that — along with a number of other substantive improvements — is what Chairmen Conyers and Reyes plan to do, in the form of an amendment to the Senate amendment to H.R. 3773.
Sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? The sort of thing people say when they make fun of the legislative process: the House amendment to the Senate amendment to the bill H.R. 3773.
Only guess what’s special about offering an amendment to the amendment that isn’t true of just starting over with a new House bill that doesn’t have immunity in it?
You can’t move to recommit an amendment to an amendment.
So the House gets to strip immunity (and the other junk) back out of H.R. 3773, and the Republicans can’t just undo that work with a motion designed to peel off Blue Dogs. If the amendment to the Senate amendment passes, it pops right back out of the House and goes back to the Senate on the express bus, no stops.
And there’s more. It arrives back in the Senate in privileged form, as a message from the House (the message being: we amended your crap) the consideration of which is not subject to filibuster. To be sure, the Republicans (or anyone willing to stand in their shoes) can filibuster the actual debate on the House amendment to Senate amendment, but they can’t filibuster the question of whether or not to even have that debate, as they can with most other legislation.

I don’t know if this is the end game, but it certainly is the long game.
Well played, Harry.

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