The House on Wednesday narrowly rejected an amendment, 205-217, meant to prohibit the National Security Agency from collecting phone data from people not under investigation.
It marked the first real test of congressional opinion on the matter and it split the Pennsylvania delegation. 8 Pa. members voted for the measure, proposed by libertarian-leaning Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), while 9 voted against it.
Overall, the vote was anything but a party-line vote. Democrats voted yes 111 to 83, Republicans voted no 134 to 94.
Only one Pa. Democrat voted against the amendment and in favor of the NSA: Congresswoman and gubernatorial candidate Allyson Schwartz (D-Montco).
“The U.S. government has a responsibility to ensure our nation’s security while respecting the constitutional rights of all Americans,” Schwartz said. “I strongly believe that we must aggressively intercept terrorists’ communications, track their whereabouts, disrupt their plans and eliminate threats. I opposed Rep. Amash’s amendment because it did not achieve the critical balance between national security and civil liberties.”
4 of 13 Pa. Republicans, in contrast with Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), voted yes: Reps. Scott Perry (R-York), Glenn Thompson (R-Centre), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) and Keith Rothfus (R-Allegheny). Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Luzerne) did not vote.
“Tonight, I stood on the side of personal liberty and voted in favor of the Amash-Conyers
Amendment which would have curtailed the blanket collection of phone records by the NSA,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. He has been a consistent critic of government surveillance powers.
“While I am disappointed the amendment was not passed and attached to the bill, its strong bipartisan support should put the president on notice about the very serious concerns many members, and Americans, have about the expanse of government agencies like the NSA.”
The NSA’s data collection programs have become a hot-button issue among lawmakers and many others since they were exposed by former CIA employee Edward Snowden.