Undercover Operations

The IRS’s pursuit of spying equipment, revealed by the Drudge Report three days ago, has been canceled for now:

The IRS issued the cancellation on Wednesday at 11:49 a.m.

CNSNews.com published an initial story about the IRS’s purchase order on Monday afternoon–and that story was linked on The Drudge Report.

As CNSNews.com reported, the IRS had issued a rush order for the surveillance equipment last Thursday, June 6. That order originally carried a deadline of Monday, June 10. Among the items the IRS sought to purchase were four coffee trays with hidden cameras, four cameras that could be concealed in plants, and two “concealed clock radios.

But this sort of thing is far from new.  And support for it has been supplied by Congress for many years.

The Line-Item Veto

During the Clinton administration, Republicans proposed what had been long sought by presidents of both parties: the ability to cross-out disagreeable parts of bills. This time, both parties cooperated, and Clinton signed the Line Item Veto Act into law in 1996.  But shortly thereafter, it was ruled unconstitutional — a decision still argued about.  Especially since almost 90% of governors have line-item veto ability over their state legislatures.

Why is it important? Because things get stuck into bills that have no business there, so that a vote for the main desired effect carries this add-on along for the ride.  Most of the time, the add-ons have to do with spending more money, adding more control, or both.  It is tough to object to a bill felt “necessary” just because of these extra lines, though sometimes this happens.

A relevant example

One such line-item add-on has to do with the current scandals … but dates back many years. Here’s one that comes to mind: The emergency bill jammed through for Hurricane Katrina relief in 2005 (Public Law 109-135) has this unusual entry:

SEC. 304. AUTHORITY FOR UNDERCOVER OPERATIONS.
Paragraph (6) of section 7608(c) (relating to application of section)
is amended by striking ‘‘January 1, 2006’’ both places is
appears and inserting ‘‘January 1, 2007’’.

Except for the title, it looks routine. Such lines appear in every piece of legislation; in some cases, they make up the majority of the text.  One odd example is the Small Business Innovation Research Reauthorization Act two years ago.  Nothing remained of it but the title, and the text was the added-in language repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation from the Clinton years.

When Democrats took the House and Senate in 2007, they decided that sneaking these “undercover operations” lines into bills each year was too tricky. As the new Senate Finance Committee complained, “The temporary status of this provision creates uncertainty as the IRS plans its undercover efforts from year to year.” So, in 2008 they were able to get in text — as a line-item add in to another bill — a permanent funding for this.

I would very much like to see the line item veto restored, to control what becomes law.  Instead, we have President Obama’s practice of ignoring parts of laws that he does not care for and legislating by Executive Order, creating the “rule of whim” instead of the rule of law.

And most of those whims are undercover. We’ve had a tiny victory against these undercover acts, though, just yesterday. I’ll post about it later today.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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