In an election-year triumph for the National Rifle Association, the House voted Wednesday to scale back proposed expansions of power to the federal government in legislation designed to fight crime and terrorism.
On a bipartisan vote of 246-171, lawmakers made it tougher than originally proposed for government attorneys to obtain convictions in some firearms cases. The same vote also stripped out a provision making it easier for prosecutors to use improperly obtained wiretap evidence in certain court cases.
Also deleted was a provision permitting the government to designate certain organizations as terrorist and to deny entrance visas to their representatives.
Republican leaders confidently predicted the House would approve the bill in a final vote on today. That would pave the way for negotiations with the Senate, and presumably the White House, on a final compromise.
“We do not need to grant our government any vast new powers,” Rep. Bob Barr, a conservative freshman Republican from Georgia, argued as he led the fight to revise the measure. He said some provisions in the bill duplicated existing law, while others were unwise.
Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, seemed incensed at the prevailing mood on the House floor. “I heard a dear friend of mine, a great Republican, say, ‘I trust Hamas more than I trust my own government,’ Hyde said in a reference to the terrorist group that has claimed responsibility for the recent wave of suicide bombings in Israel. He did not identify the other lawmaker by name.
“I am extremely disappointed at today’s congressional action,” Attorney General Janet Reno said in a written statement.
“It bars changes in law that would have made it possible to trace terrorists’ phone calls in a way that is now permitted in organized crime investigations.”
Among other groups, the NRA lobbied hard for the changes, writing lawmakers on March 11 that it would “report the vote … to our members as critical to their constitutional rights.”