Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress has authorized — and a Republican and a Democratic president have signed — extensions of the powers to search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of terrorists.
Two years ago, in a strong bipartisan statement, the Senate voted 72-23 to renew the Patriot Act and the House backed the extension 250-153.
Since the disclosures this year, however, lawmakers have said they were shocked by the scope of the two programs — one to collect records of hundreds of millions of calls and the other allowing the NSA to sweep up Internet usage data from around the world that goes through nine major U.S.-based providers.
Although Republican leaders agreed to a vote on the Amash amendment, one of 100 to the defense spending bill, time for debate was limited to 15 minutes out of the two days the House dedicated to the overall legislation.
The White House and the director of the NSA, Army Gen. Keith Alexander, made last-minute appeals to lawmakers, urging them to oppose the amendment. Rogers and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, implored their colleagues to back the NSA program.
Eight former attorneys general, CIA directors and national security experts wrote in a letter to lawmakers that the two programs are fully authorized by law and "conducted in a manner that appropriately respects the privacy and civil liberties interests of Americans."
White House press secretary Jay Carney issued an unusual, nighttime statement on the eve of Wednesday's vote, arguing that the change would "hastily dismantle one of our intelligence community's counterterrorism tools."
Proponents of the NSA programs argue that the surveillance operations have been successful in thwarting at least 50 terror plots across 20 countries, including 10 to 12 directed at the United States. Among them was a 2009 plot to strike at the New York Stock Exchange.