TIME Congress

Senate Blocks Patriot Act Extension

It's set to expire May 31

(WASHINGTON)—Unable to end a struggle over how to deal with government surveillance programs, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a last-minute session to consider retaining the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of domestic phone records.

McConnell, R-Ky., warned against allowing the controversial NSA program and other key surveillance activities under the USA Patriot Act to expire at midnight May 31. He said he would call the Senate into session that day, a Sunday, and seek action before the deadline.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky’s other senator and a Republican presidential candidate, called the Senate’s failure to allow an extension of the surveillance programs during a late-night session Friday into Saturday a victory for privacy rights.

“We should never give up our rights for a false sense of security,” Paul said in a statement. “This is only the beginning — the first step of many. I will continue to do all I can until this illegal government spying program is put to an end, once and for all.”

By the time senators broke for the holiday, they had blocked a House-passed bill and several short-term extensions of the key provisions in the Patriot Act.

The main stumbling block was a House-passed provision to end the NSA’s bulk collection of domestic phone records. Instead, the records would remain with telephone companies subject to a case-by-case review.

The White House has pressured the Senate to back the House bill, which drew an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote last week and had the backing of GOP leaders, Democrats and the libertarian-leaning members.

But the Senate blocked the bill on a vote of 57-42, short of the 60-vote threshold to move ahead. That was immediately followed by rejection of a two-month extension to the existing programs. The vote was 54-45, again short of the 60-vote threshold.

McConnell repeatedly asked for an even shorter renewal of current law, ticking down days from June 8 to June 2. But Paul and other opponents of the post-Sept. 11 law objected each time.

Officials say they will lose valuable surveillance tools if the Senate fails to go along with the House. But key Republican senators, including McConnell, oppose the House approach.

In the near term, the Justice Department has said the NSA would begin winding down its collection of domestic calling records this week if the Senate fails to act because the collection takes time to halt.

At issue is a section of the Patriot Act, Section 215, used by the government to justify secretly collecting the “to and from” information about nearly every American landline telephone call. For technical and bureaucratic reasons, the program was not collecting a large chunk of mobile calling records, which made it less effective as fewer people continued to use landlines.

When former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the program in 2013, many Americans were outraged that NSA had their calling records. President Barack Obama ultimately announced a plan similar to the USA Freedom Act and asked Congress to pass it. He said the plan would preserve the NSA’s ability to hunt for domestic connections to international plots without having an intelligence agency hold millions of Americans’ private records.

Since it gave the government extraordinary powers, Section 215 of the Patriot Act was designed to expire at midnight on May 31 unless Congress renews it.

Under the USA Freedom Act, the government would transition over six months to a system under which it queries the phone companies with known terrorists’ numbers to get back a list of numbers that had been in touch with a terrorist number.

But if Section 215 expires without replacement, the government would lack the blanket authority to conduct those searches. There would be legal methods to hunt for connections in U.S. phone records to terrorists, said current and former U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. But those methods would not be applicable in every case.

Far less attention has been paid to two other surveillance authorities that expire as well. One makes it easier for the FBI to track “lone wolf” terrorism suspects who have no connection to a foreign power, and another allows the government to eavesdrop on suspects who continuously discard their cellphones in an effort to avoid surveillance.

TIME Congress

Senate Approves Trade Bill in Victory for Obama

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. walks to a Republican luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington
Susan Walsh—AP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. walks to a Republican luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, on May 22, 2015.

48 Republicans supported the measure, but only 14 Democrats voted for it

(WASHINGTON)—In a victory for President Barack Obama, the Senate passed bipartisan legislation Friday night to strengthen the administration’s hand in global trade talks, clearing the way for a highly unpredictable summer showdown in the House.

The vote was 62-37 to give Obama authority to complete trade deals that Congress could approve or reject, but not change. A total of 48 Republicans supported the measure, but only 14 of the Senate’s 44 Democrats backed a president of their own party on legislation near the top of his second-term agenda.

Obama hailed the vote in a statement that said trade deals “done right” are important to “expanding opportunities for the middle class, leveling the playing field for American workers and establishing rules for the global economy that help our businesses grow and hire.”

Separate legislation to prevent parts of the anti-terror USA Patriot Act from lapsing on June 1 was caught in a post-midnight showdown between a pair of Kentuckians — Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the one hand, and presidential hopeful Rand Paul on the other.

McConnell favored renewal of a program of bulk telephone collection by the National Security Agency, while Paul was unyielding in opposition. “My filibuster continues to end NSA illegal spying,” he tweeted.

By contrast, a two-month bill to prevent a cutoff in federal highway funding cleared with ease as lawmakers covetously eyed a weeklong vacation.

Senate passage of the trade bill capped two weeks of tense votes and near-death experiences for legislation the administration hopes will help complete an agreement with Japan and 10 other countries in the Pacific region.

McConnell, who was Obama’s indispensable ally in passing the bill, said it would create “new opportunities for bigger paychecks, better jobs and a stronger economy.

“The tools it contains will allow us to knock down unfair foreign trade barriers that discriminate against American workers and products stamped ‘Made in the USA,'” he said.

A fierce fight is likely in the House.

Speaker John Boehner supports the measure, and said in a written statement that Republicans will do their part to pass it.

But in a challenge to Obama, the Ohio Republican added that “ultimately success will require Democrats putting politics aside and doing what’s best for the country.”

Dozens of majority Republicans currently oppose the legislation, either out of ideological reasons or because they are loath to enhance Obama’s authority, especially at their own expense.

And Obama’s fellow Democrats show little inclination to support legislation that much of organized labor opposes.

In the run-up to a final Senate vote, Democratic supporters of the legislation were at pains to lay to rest concerns that the legislation, like previous trade bills, could be blamed for a steady loss of jobs.

“The Senate now has the opportunity to throw the 1990s NAFTA playbook into the dust bin of history,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. He referred to the North American Free Trade Agreement, passed two decades ago, and a symbol to this day, fairly or not, of the loss of unemployment to a country with lax worker safety laws and low wages.

Like Obama, Wyden and others said this law had far stronger protections built into it.

One final attempt to add another one failed narrowly, 51-48, a few hours before the bill cleared.

It came on a proposal, by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who supported the trade bill, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who opposed it. They sought to made allegations of currency manipulation subject to the same “dispute settlement procedures” as other obligations under any trade deal.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned earlier that its approval could cause Obama to veto the legislation.

Portman, who was U.S. trade representative under former President George W. Bush, scoffed at the threat. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I think he (Obama) understands the importance” of his ability to conclude trade deals without congressional changes.

The bill also included $1.8 billion in retraining funds for American workers who lose their jobs as a result of exports. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said the program duplicated other federal efforts, but his attempt to strip out the funds was defeated, 53-35.

Allies on one bill, McConnell and the White House were on different sides on the Patriot Act legislation.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest prodded the Senate to accept a House-passed bill renewing anti-terrorism programs due to expire June 1, including a provision to eliminate the National Security Agency’s ability to collect mass telephone records of Americans. Instead, the material would remain with phone companies, with government searches of the information allowed by court order on a case-by-case basis.

But the bill was blocked on a vote of 57-42, three shy of the 60 needed, and Paul then blocked several bids by the majority leader to pass short-term extensions of the current programs. Finally, McConnell announced the Senate would return on the last day of the month — with only hours to spare — to try and resolve the issue.

The highway bill was the least controversial of the three on the Senate’s pre-vacation agenda, but only because lawmakers agreed in advance on a two-month extension of the current law. The House and Senate will need to return to the issue this summer.

TIME Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton Unloads on GOP Over Export Bank

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a business roundtable at the Smuttynose Brewery with co-owner Peter Egelston May 22, 2015 in Hampton, New Hampshire.
Darren McCollester—Getty Images Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a business roundtable at the Smuttynose Brewery with co-owner Peter Egelston May 22, 2015 in Hampton, New Hampshire.

Hillary Clinton is out of patience for her Republican rivals and their opposition to an export-assistance program. But she still isn’t taking a position on a Pacific trade deal that has become politically linked to the Export-Import Bank’s renewal.

The Democratic Presidential candidate on Friday unloaded on her GOP foes, calling them cowards who do not make up their own minds and default to the loudest and most extreme voices in the party. The former Secretary of State told an invite-only crowd in Hampton, N.H.. that Americans’ jobs are in the balance, and Republicans would rather scuttle workers’ paychecks than to tell the truth about the Export-Import Bank, which provides financing for U.S. exports.

Clinton said the bank’s opponents are looking to score political points and are shameless panderers “who really should know better.” She did not single out any of her GOP rivals by name, but Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul have all opposed keeping the agency around.

“Across our country, the Export-Import Bank supports up to 164,000 jobs,” Clinton said. “It is wrong that Republicans in Congress are trying to cut off this vital lifeline for American small businesses. … They would rather threaten the livelihoods of those 164,000 jobs rather than stand up to the tea party and talk radio.”

The agency is a favorite target of small-government tea party activists, who claim it is corporate welfare for giant corporations like Boeing. The bank has been a flashpoint for conservatives and it almost lost its charter in 2012 and again last year. Lawmakers secured a nine-month extension for the bank last year, but conservatives are pushing to let the lender’s authority expire this summer.

But complicating the delicate negotiations is a trade deal with Pacific nations that President Obama is seeking. Some Democrats—especially those in the party’s liberal wing—oppose the measure.

Clinton backed the trade deal when she was at the State Department but has remained uncommitted on the issue since she entered the presidential race. She says she wants to see the final terms of the deal before deciding to endorse it or not.

“We don’t yet know all the details,” Clinton told reporters on Friday. “I have some real concerns.”

She said she would need to be assured that currency manipulation is blocked, that the standards would be enforceable and that labor and environment protections are adequate.

“I’ve been for trade agreements. I’ve been against trade agreements. I’ve voted for some. I’ve voted against others,” she said. “I want to judge this when I see what exactly is in it.”

TIME politics

Senator Says Republican Plan If Obamacare Struck Down Is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Junior United States Senator from Connecticut Chris Murphy addresses journalists in Budapest on Jan. 31, 2014.
Attila Kisbenedek—AFP/Getty Images Junior United States Senator from Connecticut Chris Murphy addresses journalists in Budapest on Jan. 31, 2014.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Affordable Care Act this summer

A Democratic Senator used a popular Internet symbol on Thursday to describe what he says is the Republican plan should the Supreme Court strike down the Affordable Care Act.

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy presented a poster with an enlarged image of the “shruggie”, or ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, during his speech. Murphy said the image was a “pretty good summary of what the Republicans plan is to respond to King v. Burwell.

“The Republicans plan,” Murphy said, “is essentially a shrug of the shoulders.”

The court is expected to issue a ruling this summer. Watch the full clip below.

Read next: 4 Ways the Supreme Court Could Rule on Obamacare

TIME Congress

Senators Offer Compromise on Domestic Surveillance Changes

The Senate is expected to vote as soon as Friday

(WASHINGTON) — The chairman of the Senate intelligence committee floated a compromise Thursday that would end bulk collection of phone records by the National Security Agency after a two-year transition period, leaving it up to the House to accept the deal or allow expiration of government surveillance powers June 1.

The proposal by Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, came as the White House and House leaders from both parties urged the Senate to take up a House-passed bill that would end NSA bulk collection after six months while preserving other surveillance powers set to expire.

“I don’t think anyone in the House wants it to go dead,” he told reporters.

With the Senate expected to vote as soon as Friday, Burr predicted the House bill would fail to break the 60-vote threshold needed to end debate, and he envisioned the same fate for a two-month extension of current law proposed by Senate leaders. As a compromise, he predicted, the leadership would propose that the Senate vote Friday to extend current law between 5 days and a month, leaving it up to the House to take or leave the Senate proposal when House members return June 1.

Earlier Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California appealed for Senate consideration of the USA Freedom Act, which their chamber passed 338-88 last week.

That bill would end the NSA’s collection and storage of domestic calling records after a six-month transition period. But it would preserve the agency’s ability to query phone company records in search of domestic connections to international terrorists. The House measure also would renew two unrelated surveillance powers commonly used by the FBI to track spies and terrorists.

Burr and other GOP senators worry that six months does not allow time enough for the NSA to make a smooth transition, and believe two years would be better.

“I don’t think this is one of those things where we can take a risk,” Burr said.

But in a conference call with reporters, senior administration officials disputed that view, saying that NSA chief Mike Rogers has endorsed six months as sufficient. They spoke under ground rules that they not be named.

The officials were adamant that if the Senate failed to pass the USA Freedom Act, the phone records program and other counterterrorism surveillance is in jeopardy. They noted that a federal appeals court recently ruled that the program was illegal but kept it in place only because Congress was debating changes.

They said they had been making their case to senators, but they worried that some did not understand “the risk of doing anything other than passing the USA Freedom Act,” as one put it.

“I am very concerned that the American people will be unprotected if this law expires,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in an interview with CBS News.

Heading into a holiday break, the House was set to end its business Thursday afternoon. If senators fail to act, the NSA will begin winding down the phone records program this week, the Justice Department said.

Both of the unrelated surveillance powers would expire at midnight May 31, including one making it easier for the FBI to track “lone wolf” terrorism suspects. If that were to happen, FBI Director James Comey said it would set back the bureau at a time when domestic threats are on the rise.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he would allow a vote on the House bill and on his plan for a two-month extension of the current law. Burr’s proposal might result in a third vote.

Pelosi and other Democrats said a two-month extension is unworkable. They pointed out that many House members who voted against the USA Freedom Act vehemently oppose NSA collection of phone records and want the bill to be stronger in its surveillance curbs.

Pelosi said senators “should face reality and come up with a bill.”

Boehner said he saw “a big disconnect” with the Senate on the issue. “I’ve been surprised by it.”

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the most libertarian-leaning of the major Republican presidential contenders, says the USA Freedom Act is insufficient; he favors letting the NSA surveillance provision expire altogether. Under that scenario, the NSA would not be able to search American phone records in the custody of the phone companies.

Paul dominated the Senate floor for almost 11 hours Wednesday, ending at close to midnight, to decry the NSA phone records program that was revealed in 2013 by former agency contractor Edward Snowden.

It was unclear how much Paul’s political theater influenced the debate. Nearly every other Republican presidential candidate is on record supporting extending that program, except for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who backs the USA Freedom Act.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Paul said his “No. 1 success would be ending bulk collection of data.” That potentially could leave room for him to get behind the USA Freedom Act.

The FBI wants to keep using a provision that permits the bureau to eavesdrop on “lone wolf” terrorism suspects without having to prove their connection to a foreign power. A second provision allows the FBI to “get a roving wiretap order” when “we encounter a spy or a terrorist who is dropping phones, dropping phones, dropping phones,” Comey said this week.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest called on the Senate to pass the NSA bill before leaving town on their weeklong break for Memorial Day.

“It would be irresponsible to let these authorities lapse for even a few days,” he said.

Earnest said the legislation was “a reasonable compromise” that strikes the right balance between allowing intelligence-gathering and protecting civil liberties.

___

Associated Press writers Steve Peoples, Laurie Kellman, Alan Fram and Charles Babington contributed to this report.

TIME youth

Why Young People Don’t Want to Run For Office

TIME speaks with Jennifer Lawless, whose research on young Americans' political ambition is revealed in a new book

Will American politics face a brain drain? If current trends continue, it could soon.

Political science professors Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox asked more than 4,000 high school and college students if they would be interested in running for political office in America someday: 89% of them said “no.”

That finding is the crux of a new book based on their original research, Running From Office. In it, the authors argue that the dysfunction of Washington has turned the next generation off politics in historic fashion. Unless behaviors change, American University’s Lawless says, the country’s brightest stars are going to pursue just about anything but one of the 500,000 elected offices America needs filled each year.

Here is a lightly edited transcript of TIME’s interview with Lawless, in which she explains who’s to blame, what’s to be done and why she earnestly believes parents should be convincing their kids to become politicians.

It’s an old, old thing to lament the youth’s lack of interest in politics and a rancorous political climate. What is happening here that is new?

There are two dynamics. The first is that lamenting young people’s engagement has previously always stopped at their interest or their participation. [Researchers have] never actually considered whether they’re interested in running for office. The other is the young people that we’ve surveyed, who are high school and college students now, have grown up only amid the dysfunction that currently characterizes the political system. They have known nothing else. And this is really the first generation where that’s the case.

But is this a historic brand of dysfunction?

We know that polarization is stronger now than it’s been and it’s continued to increase. We know that effectiveness—if we measure that in legislative productivity—has been lower in the last several Congresses. And look at some of the high-profile examples of dysfunction that we’re not accustomed to seeing. The government shutdown is the most obvious one. Debates over raising the debt ceiling. The U.S. having its credit rating decreased. The constant worry over the course of the last year that there might be another government shutdown. That’s new to this generation. We saw dysfunction but not at the same level in the 1980s and 1990s.

Why do you think researchers haven’t looked at political ambition before?

I think there is this disconnect. Until we started doing the research, I didn’t know that the careers that young people identify as something they might be interested in during their teens often map onto what they’re going to do later in life … There was probably this sense that, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter. Young people are disengaged. They’re tuned out. When politics matters to them, they’ll care more.’ But what our data suggests that if they’re already writing this off now, there’s nothing to suggest that it’s going to come back onto their radar screen.

Do we have numbers from previous generations to compare the 89% statistic to?

We don’t know because polls of young people in previous generations generally don’t exist. We do, though, have data over time on young people’s interest in politics, whether they talk about politics with their families, whether they are talking about politics with their friends and whether they follow political news. We found that all of those things are predictors of whether you’re running for office. And the over-time data show declines on all of those indicators. Depending how you examine them, we see declines of 20% or 30%.

How long is this list of who or what is to blame for young people’s antipathy or apathy toward being in politics?

We’re not necessarily blaming young people. It’s that they live in an environment where they’re not particularly interested in politics because they find it argumentative and dysfunctional. But their parents agree. And their teachers agree. And the news media agree. So they get these constant reinforcing messages that this is not something that is fun or interesting or important or noble … The [other] set of players are the politicians themselves. They behave increasingly in unappealing ways and in ways that suggest that they’re not effective at their jobs.

Why should parents and teachers be pitching kids on politics when that’s not necessarily a message they believe in?

We think that letting young people know that this is a way that they can effect change—and that politics does not have to be the way they perceive it—is a message we want to send. At the end of the day, legislation is passed and policies are made by the government. And if you don’t have a seat at that table, even if you are highly effective in a behind-the-scenes kind of capacity, you’re not living up to the full potential of options you have. If people choose not to do that, that’s fine. But 13 to 17-year olds should not be writing that off as a future career option … If we had heard that 89% of young people said that under no circumstances would they ever become a lawyer or a doctor or a journalist or a teacher, there would probably be a national outcry.

What happens if kids don’t change their minds?

We have more than 500,000 elected offices in this country. … We’re not concerned that no one will run for them. We’re concerned that the candidates will be the type of people who aren’t interested in bringing about a better system.

What kind of people will still be attracted to political races, if not the best candidates?

The kind of people who are currently in office. People that actually do not think that government is a way to bring about positive change, people who are more interested in their own power than public policy, people that are antagonistic and confrontational and value partisanship over output.

When you’re talking to that jaded 16-year-old, how do you pitch them on this?

The first thing is to ask them what matters to them, and in almost every case what is most important to a high school student or a college student can be linked to a specific political issue. For high school students, it might be that they’re worried about whether they’re going to be able to afford college. For college students, it might be whether they’re worried about moving into their parents’ house when they graduate. For young women, it could be that they don’t have access to contraception.

So what should be done to remedy that situation?

We have a series of recommendations. One is linking political aptitude to the college admissions process, so people have to know something about current events and politics if they want to go to college. Another suggestion we have is some kind of national service program that would value political service. We’ve seen large programs like the Peace Corps, like Americorps, like Teach for America, where we have created incentives for young people to go out and improve communities. There’s no similar program for political service, which could create an incentive for young people to get involved in their communities as elected leaders.

How optimistic are you feeling right now about all the gridlock and bickering and disenchantment improving?

It’s funny because I’m an eternal pessimist but on this front, I believe in government. A lot. Maybe this is a little idealistic, but I think as people begin to realize that there are long term consequences to the dysfunction that we’re experiencing—that we might be turning off an entire generation or even discouraging adults right now who are well-qualified to run and lead—they’ll see there are opportunities for change.

TIME politics

This Politician Just Said What Everyone Is Thinking About Game of Thrones

"OK, I'm done," Claire McCaskill said

Sen. Claire McCaskill is officially done with Game of Thrones.

“Ok, I’m done Game of Thrones,” McCaskill said Tuesday morning on Twitter.
“Water Garden, stupid.Gratuitous rape scene disgusting and unacceptable.It was a rocky ride that just ended.

The Missouri Democrat sent out the stream of consciousness tweet Tuesday morning, likely after wrapping up the HBO series’ most recent episode, which featured a brutal wedding-night rape scene that many criticized.

In the episode, Sansa Stark, played by Sophie Turner, was raped by her brute of a new husband shortly after saying I do. “It was a brutal, uncomfortable scene that almost certainly had viewers pleading with their screens and cursing them after,” TIME’s Eric Dodds wrote.

Turner, for her part, said she “loved” the scene, and George R.R. Martin, who wrote the books that inspired the series, defended what’s come to be called the “black wedding” scene.

Read next: George R.R. Martin Defends ‘Black Wedding’ Scene on Game of Thrones

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Congress

House Votes to End Bulk Collection of American Phone Records

The NSA's new spy data collection center is seen just south of Salt Lake City on May 7, 2015 in Bluffdale, Utah.
George Frey—Getty Images BLUFF DALE, UT - MAY 7: The NSA's new spy data collection center is seen just south of Salt Lake City May 7, 2015 in Bluffdale, Utah. Reportedly, the center is the largest of its kind with massive computer power for processing data. A New York Court of appeals ruled that the NSA's bulk collection of phone data is illegal. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

The USA Freedom Act would end the mass collection of phone metadata by the NSA

(WASHINGTON) — The House voted by a wide margin Wednesday to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records and replace it with a system to search the data held by telephone companies on a case-by-case basis.

The 338-to-88 vote set the stage for a Senate showdown just weeks before the Patriot Act provisions authorizing the program are due to expire.

If the House bill becomes law, it will represent one of the most significant changes stemming from the unauthorized disclosures of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. But many Senate Republicans don’t like the measure, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has introduced a separate version that would keep the program as is. Yet, he also faces opposition from within his party and has said he is open to compromise.

President Barack Obama supports the House legislation, known as the USA Freedom Act, which is in line with a proposal he made last March. The House passed a similar bill last year, but it failed in the Senate.

Most House members would rather see the Patriot Act provisions expire altogether than re-authorize NSA bulk collection, said Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee. “I think the Senate is ultimately going to pass something like the USA Freedom Act,” he said.

The issue, which exploded into public view two years ago, has implications for the 2016 presidential contest, with Republican candidates staking out different positions.

The revelation that the NSA had for years been secretly collecting all records of U.S. landline phone calls was among the most controversial disclosures by Snowden, a former NSA systems administrator who in 2013 leaked thousands of secret documents to journalists.

The program collects the number called, along with the date, time and duration of call, but not the content or people’s names. It stores the information in an NSA database that a small number of analysts query for matches against the phone numbers of known terrorists abroad, hunting for domestic connections to plots.

Officials acknowledge the program has never foiled a terrorist attack, and some within the NSA had proposed abandoning it even before it leaked — on the grounds that its financial and privacy costs outweighed its counterterrorism benefits.

Proponents of keeping the program the way it is argue that the rise of the Islamic State group and its efforts to inspire Westerners to attack in their own countries make it more important than ever for the NSA and FBI to have such phone records at their disposal to map potential terrorist cells when new information surfaces. And they say there is no evidence the program has ever been misused.

Under the House measure, the NSA would no longer collect and store the records, but the government still could obtain a court order to obtain data connected to a specific number from the phone companies, which typically store them for 18 months.

If the legislation is enacted, “Americans will now rest easy knowing that their calls and other records will not be warehoused by the government, no matter how careful the government is in their procedures to access those files,” said Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat on the intelligence committee.

The House measure also provides for a panel of experts to advocate for privacy and civil liberties before the secret intelligence court that oversees surveillance programs. And it allows the government to continue eavesdropping on foreign terrorists without a warrant for 72 hours after they enter the U.S., giving authorities time to obtain such a warrant.

The Senate will have a short window to act before Patriot Act provisions authorizing the phone records program and other counterterrorism-related measures expire June 1. If McConnell’s bill passes to reauthorize the law with no changes, that would be seen as a crushing defeat for surveillance opponents.

On Tuesday, NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers and FBI Director Jim Comey briefed senators on the program. Afterward, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told reporters the NSA was not collecting all the data it should be. He declined to be specific, saying the briefing was classified, but he appeared to be addressing the fact that the collection does not include most mobile calls in an era when many people have stopped using landlines.

“The way it’s being implemented today, I don’t see how it’s … useful at all to the American people,” said Corker, who wants to reauthorize the current law. “And I’m shocked, shocked … by the small amount of data that is even part of the program. It needs to be ramped up.”

U.S. officials have confirmed the mobile records gap, saying it stemmed from technical and policy issues that ultimately would have been addressed absent the Snowden leak. Under the House’s USA Freedom Act, they said, the NSA would expand its queries to include mobile records, creating a potentially more effective program. But they have expressed concerns about working out an arrangement with phone providers to standardize the data so the information can quickly be searched.

Those officials, not authorized to comment publicly by name, spoke only on condition of anonymity.

___

Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.

TIME Congress

Lawmakers Approve Amtrak Budget Cut Hours After Deadly Crash

An Amtrak northeast regional passenger train departs Union Station in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 15, 2013.
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images An Amtrak northeast regional passenger train departs Union Station in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 15, 2013.

The bill would cut Amtrak's budget by $251 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

(WASHINGTON) — A Republican-controlled House panel on Wednesday approved deep spending cuts to Amtrak’s budget just hours after a deadly crash in Philadelphia.

The Appropriations Committee backed a $55 billion transportation and housing measure after rejecting Democratic attempts to boost spending on Amtrak by more than $1 billion, including $556 million targeted for the railroad’s Northeast corridor, site of the derailment. The vote was 30-21 along party lines.

The GOP bill would cut Amtrak’s budget by $251 million, to $1.1 billion, for the upcoming fiscal year.

“Every day, tens of thousands of passengers travel our nation’s railways on Amtrak — a majority of those along the Northeast Corridor where yesterday’s tragic accident occurred,” said Rep. Chaka Fattah, who represents Philadelphia. “These riders deserve safe, secure, and modern infrastructure.”

President Barack Obama asked for almost $2.5 billion for Amtrak in his February budget, much more than he’d requested in previous years. Obama’s proposed boost is mostly dedicated to capital investment in track, tunnels and bridges and includes $400 million in grants for capital construction along Amtrak’s Northeast corridor.

There were early indications that Tuesday night’s tragedy may have been due to excessive speed. An Associated Press analysis of a surveillance tape found that the train was going about 107 MPH as it approached a curve where the speed limit less than half that.

“We must pass a multi-year transportation funding bill that increases — not decreases — federal investment in highway, transit and rail programs before other disaster occurs,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md.

The vote came as Congress stares down a deadline in 18 days to reauthorize legislation to pay for highways and transit programs.

Amtrak is one of many flash points in the underlying measure, which Democrats say shortchanges important programs for the poor and contains giveaways to the trucking industry.

In recent years, cuts by House Republicans have been restored in House-Senate negotiations, but the railroad’s budget has remained generally flat.

Fattah’s $1.3 billion amendment to fully fund Obama’s Amtrak request failed along party lines after Republicans pointed out that it would have broken budget limits and left the bill vulnerable to procedural challenges.

Top panel Democrat Nita Lowey of New York said the measure undercuts important accounts, including those dedicated to transportation safety and capital construction. Lowey said the bill “drastically short-changes job-creating investments critical to hardworking American families, like roads, bridges, and rail systems and access to safe and affordable housing.”

But Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky said majority Republicans are hamstrung by automatic spending cuts known as sequestration that are forcing a freeze in the operating budgets of domestic agencies funded by lawmakers each year. These cuts are the result of a hard-fought 2011 budget deal between Obama and Republicans and are more punishing than originally intended because Congress has yet to find substitute cuts or revenues to replace them.

“We have no choice but to abide by the law,” Rogers said.

The White House and Democrats are pushing to boost domestic programs and insist that they’ll thwart GOP efforts to increase the Pentagon’s budget if domestic agencies aren’t given comparable relief. Republicans have padded war accounts — which are exempt from spending limits — to add to the Pentagon’s budget by $38 billion, a 7 percent increase that matches Obama’s overall request.

The measure is the largest of 12 spending bills considered so far by the GOP-controlled House and includes cuts to an almost $2 billion account for rehabilitating public housing and grants to states and local governments for housing for the poor. In a letter delivered Monday, the White House reminded lawmakers of recent rioting in Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods and said the measure would hurt efforts to end homelessness and hurt families.

But the White House didn’t specifically object to the Amtrak cuts in the letter, sent by Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan.

On Wednesday White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest wasn’t pointing fingers about the accident, though he said more Amtrak funding would “benefit the traveling public and be good for our economy.”

TIME global trade

Why Democrats Overcame In-Fighting on Trade

President Barack Obama pauses during a meeting at the White House in Washington on May 1, 2015.
Susan Walsh—AP President Barack Obama pauses during a meeting at the White House in Washington on May 1, 2015.

President Obama’s trade agenda overcame a setback Wednesday in the Senate, showing a blocked vote 24 hours earlier was more of a negotiating strategy by centrist Democrats than a death-blow to the prospects for a trans-Pacific trade deal.

Given the stakes, that’s not entirely surprising: the single biggest factor in how well most human beings live in 20 years will be the economic balance of power between China and the U.S. Figuring out how best to set that balance to America’s advantage is what the Senate debate is all about.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is being negotiated in secret and few know what is actually in it. But the general purpose is to get 12 countries in Asia and the Americas, which together account for 40% of the world’s production of goods and services, to agree to a broad set of rules for trade and business. Supporters say standardizing those rules would make it easier for Americans to sell things abroad and cheaper to buy things here.

At the same time, China, India and other countries that aren’t part of the TPP talks are trying to cut their own deals to give their companies and consumers an edge. Whoever does it best gets the most benefits, the argument goes.

Opponents of the deal say these so-called “efficient markets” are just jargon for cutting corners on labor, environmental and human rights standards. Competing with China to cut trade deals ends up being a race to the bottom, they say. Instead, they argue that Americans would do better if the Obama Administration set high standards even if that made it harder to compete with other countries.

The problem with that argument is that as China grows ever-more powerful, the world is increasingly happy to ignore high American standards in favor of lower Chinese ones. China’s economy currently produces around $9.24 trillion of goods and services every year; the U.S. weighs in at around $16.7 trillion. Depending on growth rates and inflation, China will likely have the largest economy in the world in a few years and by 2035 it could be way ahead.

That translates into power and influence. Already American allies and enemies alike have shown they will side with China when there is cash at stake. In March, for example, the UK, France, Germany and Italy all defied the U.S. to join a Chinese led development bank.

So how do you set standards and protect American workers while making it easier and cheaper for them to prosper? The centrist bloc of Democrats that stymied Obama yesterday say they want to take a middle path, offering other countries the opportunity to have cheaper trade with the U.S. with somewhat higher standards. The centrists say they’ll vote to pass “fast track” authority if the U.S. also punishes certain kinds of corner-cutting that give countries an unfair advantage in the international markets, such as currency manipulation, lax labor standards and other bad behavior.

Ideologically, that’s not very different from Obama’s position. Which explains why the jubilation on the left after yesterday’s vote was premature. Centrist Democrats reportedly met with the White House to discuss a compromise on tougher standards that would allow “fast track” authority to move ahead. By mid-afternoon Wednesday, a deal had been struck.

Whether that will ultimately keep America competitive with the fast-growing China is another question.

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