Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) blamed the members of Congress who continue to support the Patriot Act for the news that the NSA has been collecting millions of telephone records from Verizon.
In a statement Sen. Sanders said:
As one of the few members of Congress who consistently voted against the Patriot Act, I expressed concern at the time of passage that it gave the government far too much power to spy on innocent United State citizens and provided for very little oversight or disclosure. Unfortunately, what I said turned out to be exactly true.
The United States should not be accumulating phone records on tens of millions of innocent Americans. That is not what democracy is about. That is not what freedom is about. Congress must address this issue and protect the constitutional rights of the American people.
While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and the civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans.
Sen. Sanders is exactly right. The problem isn’t that the Obama administration used these powers. The real problem is that they shouldn’t have these powers in the first place. Congress has had three opportunities to say no to the Patriot Act. Instead, Democrats and Republicans both voted for the initial legislation in 2001, and reauthorized it in 2006 and 2011.
Republicans are trying to turn this latest news into an Obama scandal, but an even larger scandal is that the legislative branch of our government continues to rollover and allow presidents to expand the power of the executive branch. To be clear, in this case, President Obama isn’t expanding powers. He is continuing the precedent established by George W. Bush and legislatively approved/renewed three times by Congress.
This expansion of presidential powers is one of the most important issues facing our government, but the discussion will likely go nowhere, because Republicans will keep trying to turn this into an Obama scandal. The nation needs the congress to look at this issue in a non-partisan way. Since taking the partisanship out of the discussion would mean that Republicans would have to take responsibility for creating the problem, there is zero chance that this will happen.
Sen. Sanders nailed it. The blame for this invasion of our collective privacy rests with the members of congress who continue to vote for the Patriot Act. Presidents come and go, but the power of the presidency remains. Many of the members who voted for the Patriot Act multiple times are currently in congress.
Without Congress giving these powers to President Bush, the nation would not be in this position today. If congressional Republicans want to blame someone for this mess, they need to look in the mirror. Their Patriot Act was, is, and remains the source of the problem. In a post-9/11 state of hysteria congress dropped the ball, and we are still paying for their political cowardice today.