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Lawmakers Pass Controversial Spying Rules, Leave Washington

By CM Chaney · December 16, 2023

In brief…

  • House passed short-term extensions on surveillance rules and aviation laws before recess
  • Major battles loom over government funding and surveillance powers in 2024
  • Hardliners aim to restrict controversial Section 702 snooping authorities
  • Stopgap funding for federal agencies expires in January and February
  • Multiple unresolved policy issues await Congress upon returning
The U.S. House of Representatives exited Washington for holiday recess Thursday after postponing oversight of pressing issues like surveillance powers, aviation laws, and unsettled government spending caps, ensuring a turbulent start to Congress's 2024 policy agenda.  Office of Speaker Mike Johnson / Wikimedia

The U.S. House of Representatives departed Washington for recess on Thursday, punting major policy battles on issues like surveillance rules and aviation laws into 2024.

Their crammed agenda promises a turbulent start when Congress reconvenes next year.

Before leaving town, House lawmakers approved a short-term extension of controversial spying authorities under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Section 702 allows warrantless government surveillance of foreign nationals abroad, even if they communicate with American citizens.

Hardliners on both the right and left aim to restrict the controversial snooping powers they argue infringe on civil liberties when Congress revisits Section 702 in April.

Supporters counter the authorities remain essential to protecting national security.

The House also kicked oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) down the road until March through another temporary extension attached to the NDAA.

The FAA measure governs policies from air traffic control to aviation safety. The Senate expects to approve its own FAA extension next week.

But likely Congress’s most immediate crisis upon returning involves yet unresolved government spending levels. A stopgap bill passed in December only funded federal agencies until January 19 and February 2.

Fierce disputes persist between the House and Senate over establishing an overall spending cap for appropriations.

Beyond these pressing deadlines, House leadership postponed progress on numerous other bills until 2024, leaving a cluttered schedule ahead.

The temporary surveillance extension, in particular, promises contentious debate on deeply divisive security issues clouded by civil liberties concerns.