“Things Will Be Fine”

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The dreaded hour is nigh upon us!

You heard President Bush yesterday, didn’t you? The “lives of countless Americans” are in the balance!

That’s because this Saturday, the administration’s sweeping surveillance bill, the Protect America Act, lapses. Several American cities are sure to be in flames by Monday.

That, at least, was the idea behind the administration’s vintage surveillance squeeze play. House Dems were supposed to be in such an alarmist tizzy that they’d have no choice but to accede to the Senate’s version of the surveillance bill. Faced with the terrible choice of exposing the American populace to imminent danger or simply letting a couple telcos off the hook for doing what the President told them to do, the choice was supposed to be clear. The failure of an effort to extend the law for 21 more days yesterday in the House should have closed the deal.

But if more people start thinking like Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), maybe that won’t pan out. When the Protect America Act lapses and the old FISA law kicks back into effect, he says, we won’t be any more vulnerable. “Things will be fine.”

Or, as The New York Times explains:

The lapsing of the deadline would have little practical effect on intelligence gathering. Intelligence officials would be able to intercept communications from Qaeda members or other identified terrorist groups for a year after the initial eavesdropping authorization for that particular group.

If a new terrorist group is identified after Saturday, intelligence officials would not be able to use the broadened eavesdropping authority. They would be able to seek a warrant under the more restrictive standards in place for three decades through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Apparently the necessary fear hasn’t quite set in. The Wall Street Journal reports that House and Senate negotiations “are expected to stretch past Saturday.” Don’t they know what’s at stake?