Sunday, February 17, 2008

Boehner Column: "Third Parties Helping Secure America Should Be Protected, Not Opened Up to Lawsuits"

Earlier this year, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle came together to pass an economic growth package to help get our economy moving again. I hoped this same spirit bipartisanship would extend to other critical matters, such as reducing wasteful government spending and keeping America safe. Sadly, this was not to be.

At the end of last week, the House left Washington for a 12-day break after failing to pass critical legislation designed to ensure that our intelligence officials are able to monitor foreign communications of suspected terrorists overseas, such as Osama Bin Laden and other key al-Qaeda leaders while adding critical liability protections for third parties who helped us defend our country. This measure received strong bipartisan support in the Senate, and was on the verge of receiving the similar bipartisan support in the House until it was blocked from coming to the floor.

For some lawmakers, there is no urgency to address this crisis. But the New York Post recently reported a heartbreaking story about U.S. forces in Iraq having to wait 10 hours last May before they could begin searching for three American soldiers taken hostage by al Qaeda because lawyers here in the United States were hammering out the proper documents to get emergency permission for wiretaps. One of our soldiers was found dead; two others remain missing.

These unconscionable delays had real consequences. It should take exactly zero lawyers to rescue our troops. The liability protections included in the bipartisan Senate bill are intended to ensure that patriotic third parties are not subject to frivolous lawsuits when they cooperate with our intelligence officials to help track terrorists and protect our country. But already some trial lawyers are seeking millions of dollars in the form of frivolous lawsuits from third parties who have voluntarily cooperated with our government. This is wrong and we must fix it.

Our first priority should be protecting our national security and not paying off trial lawyer campaign contributors. The question now is how much longer are some lawmakers prepared to protect their trial lawyer allies at the expense of our national security?

Much has been said about the U.S. Senate being the world’s most deliberative body, but in this case our colleagues proved that they can work quickly to pass good legislation that will keep America safe.

The consequences of inaction in the House and the failure to send a bill to the President are real. U.S. intelligence officials will not be able to begin new terrorist surveillance without needless and dangerous delays. If a previously unknown group were to attack or kidnap American soldiers tomorrow, U.S. forces would have to wait – again – for the lawyers to get permission before a search could begin. The families of the three soldiers abducted in May by al Qaeda can attest to how devastating waiting can be.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was written and passed during the Cold War era, and in August Congress updated it to reflect the sophisticated and adaptive nature of the terrorist threat. Just a few months ago, we were able to work in a bipartisan manner to close a gaping loophole that allows our intelligence officials to monitor foreign communications of terrorists overseas. There only ones preventing us from working together in a bipartisan way again are those in the House beholden to trial lawyers.

What was true then remains the same today: instead of shielding terrorists, we should be working to prevent future attacks. Refusing to give our intelligence officials all the tools they need to keep America safe is unacceptable. Refusing to extend protection from frivolous lawsuits to third parties that cooperate with the government to protect American lives and then leaving town for 12 days is also unacceptable. And it begs the question: how much longer are some in Congress willing to protect their trial lawyer allies at the expense of our national security?

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