There are legitimate reasons for halts to Senate activity. During a meeting of the Judiciary Committee this morning to consider surveillance provisions of the USA Patriot Act, Chairman Patrick Leahy called for a three-minute recess because he can only see out of one eye and that eye became obstructed, making it impossible for him to see anyone or coordinate committee activity. Senator Leahy got his eye irrigated and markup of the Patriot Act continued.
Does the desire for a quick snack at lunchtime measure up to that standard? Twice around the noon hour today, during consideration of consequential amendments to the Patriot Act, Senator Leahy had to stop proceedings because there weren’t enough Senators actually in the room to hold voice votes: just 2 Republicans and just 4 Democrats. This led Senator Al Franken to mutter near a microphone, “Is there a senatorial equivalent to a dog whistle? Well, there should be.”
When the Patriot Act reaches the Senate floor, will its proponents refer to “careful committee consideration”? They shouldn’t: some members of the of the Judiciary Committee, like Herb Kohl and Charles Schumer, didn’t show up for the meeting at all. Others, like Al Franken himself, were more than an hour late and wandered into policy conversations that were already halfway over.
If the Senate is going to reauthorize surveillance legislation that allows little people like you and me to be tracked without notice or probable cause, then I don’t see why Senators shouldn’t be treated the same way. But is a whistle really sufficient? Veterinary studies show the efficacy of implanted microchips and GPS collars in locating dogs; they should work for Senators, too… and just imagine how quickly they’d come running with the use of shock collars and an invisible fence or two.
Dignity, schmignity. Privacy, schmivacy. If it makes the government run on time, who cares about the antiquated notions of independence and rights… right?