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Will American freedom pay the price because Congress did not read the fine print?
By Paul M. Weyrich
It is October. Congress is getting restless. Lots of appropriations bills have yet to be passed. We are in a recession. Congress wants to get out of Washington.
Those are some of the principal reasons that Congress rushed to pass what it thinks is an anti-terrorism bill. The truth is most Members of the House and Senate have no idea of what is really in the bill. Veteran U.S Representative David Obey, Democrat from Wisconsin, echoed the sentiment of many of us when he sighed and said, "After all, it's only the Constitution."
Congress gave the Administration virtually everything it wanted. At first, there were going to be vast differences between the House and Senate bills. The Senate capitulated to the Administration on just about everything. The House came up with a bill that was much more reasonable. But at the last minute, the leadership substituted a measure that was very close to the Senate bill so that a divisive conference committee could be avoided.
About the only difference between the bills is that the House measure is much better on financial privacy issues thanks especially to the work of Brad Jansen of the Free Congress Foundation and the army he had following him. The House bill also provides for a sunset clause so that much of the new authority given the Administration will expire after five years unless renewed. Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy has said he might find such an idea to be acceptable.
I have the distinct belief that one day in the not too distant future we will look back at this piece of hastily drawn and ill-considered 250 plus page piece of legislation (which almost no one has read) and we will exclaim: "Good Lord, what have we done? What has happened to the American way of life?"
Right now the government is looked to as the solution not as the problem. Before Oklahoma City, most Americans thought of government as the problem. After the bombing of the federal center there it became a 50/50 proposition. About half of Americans thought of government as the problem, about half saw it as the solution. Now with the Trade Center/Pentagon bombings the vast majority of the public is again looking to the government as the solution. It is understandable. They have at the moment a particularly able President, someone who has risen to the task. They have a very articulate Attorney General who is rather comforting in his manner. They have a HHS Secretary who seems competent and on top of things. They have a Defense Secretary who was born for this moment. They have a Vice President who exudes confidence and competence. They have a Secretary of State who has won favor with many foreign governments. I have not heard a single person say, nor have I seen in print, "Gosh, I wish Bill Clinton were President in this crisis" or "Boy do I wish Al Gore had won the election. We'd be in so much better shape if we had his team in office".
This team has said over and over that they want to go after the Terrorists without destroying our way of life. I will grant their sincerity in that idea. Many of them have a long record of advocating and implementing ideas that would safeguard, preserve, and advance freedom. So, although I would be surprised if it were the case, let us make sure that the Bush team will not violate the Constitution in implementing the new powers given it by the Congress.
That will require Attorney General Ashcroft to keep a tight reign on FBI Director Mueller and all his troops. Maybe it can be done, although I cannot think of one Administration of the seven others I have seen up close which did not violate the Constitution in the implementation of new powers given them by Congress. But we will grant that Bush just might be the exception.
George Bush can only be our President at most a little more than seven more years. Hopefully life will go on after that. The next Administration could well be draconian in its approach to our civil liberties. They might well take every power given to it in this bill and use it to the nth degree. Then we will surely cry out, "What has happened to our American way of life". I have a hunch, however, we will be hearing that outcry far sooner than eight years from now. It will not be because I don't trust Bush and Ashcroft and most of the people around them. I do. What I don't trust is human nature. And human nature being what it is, lots of people in government are going to be tempted to play fast and loose with our liberties because Congress was anxious to get out of town and refused to take the time to really understand the legislation they have written.
Paul M. Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.
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