The Senate’s act yesterday to reauthorize warrantless surveillance of Americans under the Patriot Act, without reform and without debate and without even a recorded vote, was enabled by another act nearly a year ago. On the day after April Fool’s Day, 2009, all 99 U.S. Senators agreed by unanimous consent to Senate Amendment 962. The Hatch Amendment, as it was also called, prohibited any bill from reaching the floor of the Senate if it weakened any provision of the USA Patriot Act unless 60 Senators voted otherwise.
From the moment that the Hatch Amendment was agreed to — by every single member of the Senate — any further legislative action to reform the Patriot Act was a pointless pantomime. Thanks to the unanimous passage of the Hatch Amendment, no reform of the Patriot Act could pass without 60 votes. Because of the presence of a number of authoritarian Democrats in the Senate, and because Democrats now number fewer than 60 in the Senate, this meant that no bill but a bill to reauthorize the Patriot Act without reform could possibly pass the Senate.
You haven’t heard about the Hatch Amendment because nobody in the corps of professional journalists has written about the Hatch Amendment — not at least until yesterday, when an AP writer referred obliquely to pro-reform forces “lacking the necessary 60-vote supermajority.” The Hatch Amendment is the reason that the 60-vote supermajority was necessary for any reform bill to even reach consideration. The Hatch Amendment is the reason why Senator Patrick Leahy sounded as pathetic as a droopy weiner dog when he explained to the press why his Judiciary Committee bill was being supplanted. The Judiciary bill, Leahy said,
should be an example of what Democrats and Republicans can accomplish when we work together, but I understand some Republican senators objected to passing the carefully crafted national security, oversight and judicial review provisions in this legislation.
Why did every single member of the Democratic Senate majority vote on April 2, 2009 to make Patriot Act reform vulnerable to the objection of just one Republican senator? You’ll have to ask your senators that question.