The House is expected to vote later today on Rep. Justin Amash's amendment to defund the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records of millions of Americans — and the White House very much wants it to lose.
A rare statement Tuesday night from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney slamming the Michigan Republican's amendment was sent to reporters, and the agency is vigorously lobbying members to oppose it.
Here are a few reasons why the amendment would cause trouble for the White House:
1. A move by the House to eliminate one of the major programs exposed by Edward Snowden would to some degree validate him.
2. The last thing the White House needs as it engages in a worldwide effort to convince countries to deny Snowden asylum is the "People's House" giving him validation as a whistle-blower. Carney has repeatedly declared that Snowden is not a whistle-blower or a dissident, but instead is someone who should face criminal charges.
3. Democratic defections. President Barack Obama has, to date, been able to skate past objections from the left on many of his hardline anti-terrorism policies, some of which he continued from the Bush administration. But at least on the Amash amendment, there is a bipartisan push — including the co-sponsor, Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
4. Passage of the amendment would provide more momentum for NSA skeptics in the Senate.
Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., is currently crafting his own Defense spending bill as chairman of that Appropriations subcommittee, and he has opposed the NSA spying program since before it was made public.
“I’ve offered several [proposals] over the years, and I’m prepared to offer them again,” Durbin said at the time. “I think there are ways to make this more specific so that any data collected is specific to a suggestion that an individual is ... engaged in conduct that endangers America.”
Durbin indicated the NSA may be casting too wide a net.
“Whether we collect everything and then look for the specific offenders or we zero in on information that relates to those who’ve offended,” Durbin said at the time. “Some of it is technical, but some of it’s pretty basic in principle.”
As in the House, any Senate proposal to cut funding or downsize the program could get broad bipartisan support. Of course, Durbin may not decide to include such a provision in his bill, considering he is not only in Democratic leadership, but is also close to the president. However, the probability of the issue being raised by the likes of Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., or Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is high.
5. Finally, but importantly, the administration believes the program is critical to national security. As Carney's statement put it, "We oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community’s counter-terrorism tools."