The Protect America Act (PAA) expires on February 1st. To this point there has been silence from the White House on this, which is not a surprise. Over the summer they waited until the last minute and then raised the roof about how the terrorist killers would slit your children's throats with hunting knives if Congress didn't bring us a few steps closer to being a police state immediately. Congress was evidently surprised by this tactic, having never seen it before except for every single day since September 12th, 2001. They passed a law with a six month expiration date that gave the executive everything it wanted.
Pause for a moment and think about how strange a thing that is: A six month expiration? The most obvious explanation is that some kind of short duration was necessary for some essential support of such an authoritarian, law-nullifying piece of legislation (the telecom amnesty portion seems like a combination of M.C. Escher and the Marx Brothers: We are passing a law that says the law doesn't matter.) How could someone like Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi explain it, though? "We think it's a horrible bill so we only want it to become law for six months." There are two possibilities there - either it's a horrible bill in which case it shouldn't become law for any length of time, or it's a necessary law in which case why give it such a quick expiration date? This isn't like a tax cut with a sunset provision designed for short-term stimulus or something like that. Either the terrorist killers are about to slaughter us all or they aren't. I don't recall an al-Qaida press release announcing a switch to an all-paper system effective next Friday. There is no logical reason to do anything except make it permanent or not have it at all.
In any event, this is where we are. History suggests the President will get his way, but that's no reason to not fight like hell. The hero of the moment is Chris Dodd. He seems fully committed to a filibuster and God bless him for it. Harry Reid postponed the initial consideration of the PAA to now from December because he considered Dodd's filibuster threat nothing more than campaign posturing. Figuring Dodd would be out by now he rescheduled, and wouldn't it be fun to see a timid and calculating soul like Reid be tormented by an act of bold and principled leadership? Dodd might still back down and that would be a huge disappointment to me and others who have cheered him these last months, but right now every indication is that he will keep it up. And on a side note, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D - AT&T) is beneath contempt.
Two players are on the sidelines for this. One is Ron Paul, and that's a real shame. He's the only candidate left who is committed to fighting the expansion of the executive and the only one who would actively work to that end as President. Unfortunately he is not a Senator. Circumstances have placed him in the happy position of being able to take a stand on principle and not be inconvenienced by it. This isn't a criticism, just a description of the situation. I tend to think he'd be shoulder to shoulder with Dodd, though. The other is John Edwards. He seems to be tailor made for this fight: He's pushed a populist message and what could be more "man of the people" than championing them against well heeled corporations that are trying to buy a pass on their lawless behavior? That fight seems to be right in his wheelhouse. What's stopping him from going to the Capitol steps when this starts, holding a press conference and slamming Obama and Clinton for not showing leadership right now? Come to think of it, what is preventing Ron Paul from doing the same with John McCain?
Emphatically not on the sidelines: Clinton, McCain and Obama. John McCain hasn't taken a position (that I know of) and it's unlikely he'll show any leadership. As for Clinton and Obama, they are on record supporting Dodd's filibuster. Neither of them deserves an ounce of support for the nomination if they do not take the lead on this. It couldn't be any simpler or more urgent - both of them have blown lots of hot air about how they are leaders. Ready from day one? Guess what - today is day one. Hopemonger? Give the rest of us a reason. Cut the crap. Talk is cheap.