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House budget debate includes limits for NSA

7:03 AM, Jul 24, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9/CBS) -- This week, the House of Representatives is debating the military budget. One of the items that's getting a lot of attention is considering a change to the NSA's authority when it comes to the Patriot Act.

CBS' Tara Mergener joined us on Wednesday morning to talk about the controversy.

Mergener told us the NSA director callied an emergency meeting Tuesday. Keith Alexander paid an unusual visit to Capitol Hill ahead of Wednesday's expected vote in the House.

The House is expected to vote on an amendment to the defense bill that would essentially stop the NSA from collecting the phone records of millions of regular Americans. It is one of the first actions being taken in Congress since Edward Snowden, the so-called NSA leaker, leaked classified information about U.S. Spying programs just last month, reports Mergener. This amendment to the defense bill had created some unusual allies, both liberal-leaning Democrats and conservative-leading Libertarians, and they both agree that the NSA needs to be reined in but the rest of Congress is very divided on this subject and whether or not we need these programs to keep the country safe.

Mergener reports that the White House condemns this amendment, saying it was very hastily thought out, and very hastily put together. In fact, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, did issue a statement late Tuesday night essentially saying that President Barack Obama is open to a discussion on domestic surveillance programs. However, he thinks that this particular amendment is a bad idea.

What they'd rather have is a discussion on what tools, what options are available to the U.S. to keep it safe, according to Mergener. They say this approach was too fast and that it may put Americans at risk of another terrorist attack because the White House feels that these kind of programs have thwarted attacks in the past.

Since it was put in place under the Bush administration, both sides of the aisle have agreed this action by the NSA has been a powerful tool. Asked whether she thought the current debate is a bunch of posturing and in the end things are going to stay the same, Mergener said, "Well, you know, we've got this divided Congress. so most likely it might. The sponsors of this bill, both from Michigan -- a Democrat and a Republican, both think that there's really strong bipartisan support for this legislation. However, this bill would have to be reconciled with the House and then, of course, there's that little detail of the signature of the President. So in the end there's going to be a lot of talk about this, whether or not it actually gets done, it may be in fact what you're saying something posturing and people getting on the record for how they feel about this national security issue."

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