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The Unlikely Bipartisan Coalition

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Representtives Justin Amash (R) and John Conyers (D) by U.S. government - Michael Collins

Republicans and Democrats in the United States House of Representatives united last week to oppose Obama administration policies on meddling in the Syrian conflict and violating the privacy of citizens through pervasive collection of telephone records.

A vote on lethal aid to Syrian rebels and broader United States military intervention resulted in a slow down of lethal aid to Syrian rebels and restrictions on any use of U.S. troops in that nation's civil war.  The limiting amendment was attached to a Defense Department appropriations bill and passed by voice votes "with only scant dissent."

The adoption of this amendment represents the first real shift away from the imperial presidency allowed by Congress since the War Powers Resolution of 1973.   President Obama lost the free hand he expected to continue the assault on a sovereign state, Syria,  that never attacked or posed a threat to the U.S.

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A vote on the Amash-Conyers amendment to the defense appropriations bill attracted broader attention.  The action proposed limits the ability of the National Security Agency to spy on citizens.  The revelations of whistle blower Edward Snowden made clear the attacks on the privacy of all citizens using a variety of voice and electronic communication.

The amendment, co-sponsored by Representatives Justin Amash (R) and John Conyers (D) of Michigan failed in a roll call vote 204 to 212.  Support for the measure came from 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats.

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"The administration has not provided a public explanation as to how the telephone records of all Americans are relevant to a national security investigation.  Similarly, Sec. 215 [of the Patriot Act] is silent as to how the government may use these records once it has obtained them. " Rep. Justin Amash, July 24

Like the amendment limiting administration military assistance and action in Syria, the challenge to blanket approval of any and all national security state measures is a clear departure from record of successive victories for snooping since President Nixon's Houston Plan was discredited in the 1970's.

Typically, the House leadership would block such amendments from ever coming to a vote through House rules.  But on these two issues, the grassroots member support was so intense among Republicans, the House Rules Committee allowed a vote.

Is this the new bipartisan approach?

One of the more cherished means of maintaining the status quo for the incumbent financial and power elite is through bipartisan political consensus.  To the corporate media, that means Republicans and Democrats sacrifice their specific political agendas for the good of the country.

We have the bipartisan consensus on foreign policy; read, Republicans and Democrats support unfettered presidential power to invade nations and lesser military actions (e.g., killer drones).   This approach brought us the Vietnam War, Iraq invasions I and II, and scores of lesser unilateral military actions like the invasion of Panama.  These efforts have little to do with the interests of the people but confer great benefits to entrenched financial and political factions.

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The bipartisan approach to violating the rights of citizens represents anything from denying habeas corpus to unchallenged secret and indiscriminate spying on citizens, regardless of any danger posed by the individuals subjected to the spying.

For decades, the erosion of constitutional protections relied on fear.  If we don't pass this bill, our enemies will prevail.  Communists were the original bad guys. Terrorists replaced them after 9/11.  Those with the integrity and/or common sense to oppose the latest violation of citizen rights were told that a vote against the latest measure was a vote for more Communism or terrorist acts.

The spell of fear is broken, if only for a moment

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