Skip to content
A lead author of the U.S. Patriot Act has some advice for European officials as they wrestle with the balance between personal liberties and security in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

“The cautionary tale is that democracy depends upon a respect for civil liberties,” Jim Sensenbrenner, the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told POLITICO this week. “In France this goes all the way back to their revolution, which was right after ours and the Declaration of the Rights of Man following that revolution.”

He should know. The 18-term Wisconsin Republican, who helped push through President George W. Bush’s post-September 11 sweeping law enforcement and surveillance legislation in 2001, has long since concluded that the U.S. intelligence establishment went far beyond its mandate. That’s why after the Snowden revelations of 2013, he led the charge to scale back the Patriot Act and end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of data earlier this year, resulting in the USA Freedom Act.

“Talking about it in practical terms, the answer is to target the people which you know are up to bad stuff rather than bringing in the 99.8 percent of the inhabitants there, including the vast majority of followers of Islam, who have no intention whatsoever of conducting a terrorist attack,” he said.

While he’s been in Washington for nearly four decades, Sensenbrenner is actually no stranger to many European lawmakers, so he’s sensitive to the higher priority that many Europeans place on personal privacy. In mid-October, Europe’s largest political party — the EPP, which is center-right ideologically — awarded him its Robert Schuman Medal for his work on data-protection issues. The only other American to get the award is former President George H.W. Bush.

Sensenbrenner says the aftermath of the Paris attacks reminds him of the dark, confusing days after 9/11.

On the Sunday after the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon 14 years ago, Sensenbrenner returned to his home state of Wisconsin and received the Bush administration’s first draft of the Patriot Act. Sensenbrenner describes the proposal as an almost complete suspension of civil liberties, and a grab bag of proposals that Congress had previously rejected.

Sensenbrenner defends his role in writing the law, and says he insisted to President George W. Bush that the programs couldn’t go on in perpetuity. Sunset provisions were therefore included, requiring the programs to be renewed. He notes that at the time, a broad range of lawmakers, from security hawks to civil libertarians, voted for the bill. The House passed the bill on a 357-66 vote on Oct. 24, 2001; the Senate cleared the bill a day later on a 98-1 vote, with only Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin dissenting.

After the Snowden revelations brought NSA spying concerns to the fore, however, Sensenbrenner joined with other former supporters to rein in its surveillance authorities. The USA Freedom Act was signed into law in June, and government’s authority for bulk data collection ended this week.

“We strongly agree that the dragnet collection of millions of Americans’ phone records every day — whether they have any connection at all to terrorism — goes far beyond what Congress envisioned or intended to authorize. More important, we agree it must stop,” Sensenbrenner wrote in POLITICO along with another author of the Patriot Act —Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) — days before introducing the Patriot Act rollback in 2013.

The Patriot Act was already a dirty phrase in Europe, particularly in the wake of the Snowden revelations, synonymous with limiting freedoms under the guise of protecting national security.

A Pew Research Center poll last year found that 82 percent of French respondents said it was “unacceptable” for the U.S to monitor French citizens. That was the second highest percentage of objections in Europe after Greece. The French were equally displeased with American spying on its own citizens, according to the same poll.

And as European governments propose new security measures post-Paris, wary privacy advocates sometimes cite the U.S. law.

“We refuse [to support] a Belgian Patriot Act,” said Patrick Dewael, the leader of a liberal Belgian political party said on the floor of the Belgian parliament last month, after the country’s prime minister announced a slate of proposals aimed at cracking down on extremism. Among other things, the prime minister proposed allowing authorities to hold suspects for 72 hours without a warrant and tag extremist young people with electronic tethers. “We must always preserve the balance between safety, freedom and privacy of citizens,” he said.

In France, the current state of emergency, which lawmakers quickly agreed to extend for three months, allows authorities to raid homes without warrants. The country’s interior minister said Wednesday that since November 13, French authorities have conducted 2,235 searches and arrested 263 people.

Like Sensenbrenner, former French diplomat Pierre Vimont sees parallels with the post-Sept. 11 American response.

“You are going to see, exactly as you saw in America with 9/11, that pressure is building up to do something,” said Vimont, who is now a senior associate at Carnegie Europe.

Still, Vimont, who has served as French ambassador to the United States and the European Union, and also as the first Executive Secretary General of the European External Action Service, predicted that his country would never create a Patriot Act. Instead, he said, it would search for a “European way” of dealing with the moment.

The reason? The legacy of what played out in Washington in 2001 looms large for European policy makers.

“I don’t think you can go as far as that precisely because we have the experience now — the American experience — that a lot of political leaders are somewhat scared of,” said Vimont. “We may not go as far as that, but I’m sure you will see some change in legislation if not in constitution.”

Nonetheless, since the Snowden revelations and the Charlie Hebdo attacks, France has broadened its surveillance mandate to allow the government to monitor phone calls and emails of suspected terrorists without a warrant. And it goes even farther, compelling internet service providers to collect the metadata and the web movements of millions from overseas and make that available to intelligences services.

Back in Washington, when asked if the actions taken by the French government go too far, Sensenbrenner demurs. He says he won’t get “involved in the nuances of French law and what the French constitution allows.” He says only that good intelligence must make its way into the right hands, so that attacks like the one in Paris can be prevented.

“The bottom line is really the effectiveness of whether what the French government has done since the attacks in Paris will be able to stop future attacks,” he said. “And stopping future attacks depends on good intelligence, which is shared worldwide.”

View this online here.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Sensenbrenner released the following statement on the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to increase the amount of biofuels it will require under 2016’s Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS): 

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Calling for more than 18 billion gallons of ethanol to be incorporated into the fuel supply breaks the blend wall and is a slap in the face to the millions of Americans who don’t want it. According to data from the Energy Information Administration, the overall demand for ethanol-free gas is increasing, and it’s easy to see why.

“Increasing the ethanol mandate is a dangerous decision that will lead to misfueling, damaged engines, and more emissions and pollution. It is a giveaway to corn farmers and ethanol refiners that guarantees that Americans will be paying more to drive their cars, mow their lawns, and plow their driveways.  

“The President is continuing to pick winners and losers when it comes to ethanol. The EPA’s decision should be immediately reversed.”
 

Rein in farm bill spending

November 28, 2015

The 2014 farm bill is failing to produce the cost savings promised taxpayers. That’s why Congress should fix the holes in the bill that have let $5.2 billion more than expected flow out in one fiscal year.

A proposal sponsored by two Wisconsin congressmen offers a good starting point.

Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse and Republican Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls introduced the plan, which would rein in subsidies received by farmers and insurance companies from the farm bill’s $9-billion-a-year crop insurance program. Some of the proposed spending cuts, totaling $24 billion over 10 years, may be an overreaction to unusual circumstances.

But the proposal — the Assisting Family Farmers through Insurance Reform Measures Act — should prompt Congress to attack runaway spending in agriculture programs.

The stakes for Wisconsin are high. Agriculture contributes about $60 billion a year to the state’s economy. The state is home to more dairy farms than any other state, produces more cheese than any other state and is among the top 10 corn-producing states.

The goal of any farm bill should be to provide consumers with a stable, affordable food supply by protecting farmers from boom-and-bust cycles. The bill also should keep the nation competitive in the global marketplace, encourage environmental stewardship and remain fiscally responsible.

The farm bill passed in early 2014 began with a sound idea: Rein in costly subsidies for farm production in favor of expanding a subsidized insurance safety net. The goal was to allow farmers to buy protection from risks to their income while eliminating direct government payments to farmers.

The plan was projected to save $16.6 billion over 10 years, compared to the old farm bill. But, as the State Journal editorial page warned before the farm bill passed, the insurance subsidies are too generous. Consequently, while the idea remains worthy, the cost savings have vanished, making taxpayers the losers.

Part of the reason is an unusual crop price decline, especially for corn. Farmers who received a corn price of $7.63 per bushel in August of 2012 received $3.68 per bushel in August of this year. Because of the steep price decline, many farmers will collect huge insurance payments.

The situation also exposed other faults in the insurance system, including how big, wealthy farmers collect large payments and how insurers collect subsidies for offering policies and filing claims.

The Kind-Sensenbrenner proposal would place caps on subsidies, disqualify high-income farmers from receiving subsidies and make other changes to cut costs. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

The legislation is expected to receive stiff opposition. While some compromises are warranted, Congress should use the Kind-Sensenbrenner bill as a guide to give taxpayers the victory they were originally promised.

View this online here.
There are many things that make Thanksgiving a special time of year. It’s an opportunity to sit down and spend time with our family and friends. It’s a time to reflect on the many blessings we enjoy throughout the year, and of course, it’s a time for great food. 

This Thanksgiving, as you prepare your meals, take pride in knowing that many of the Thanksgiving foods we enjoy are produced right here in Wisconsin. 

Take dinner rolls, for example. 
Wisconsin is famous for being “America’s Dairyland,” but we also have been known as “America’s Breadbasket.” From 1840- 1880, one-sixth of the nation’s wheat came from Wisconsin fields, and although we are no longer the country’s top wheat producer, it is still among  Wisconsin’s leading industries.

How about those mashed potatoes… 
When you think of potatoes, Wisconsin may not come to mind, but our state is actually the third leading potato producer in the country, just behind Idaho and Washington. 

…with a side of corn?
More than 15,000 farmers in Wisconsin grow corn on approximately three million acres, and the state is one of the top producers in the nation. In addition to food, Wisconsin corn is used for livestock feed, and about 10 percent of the state’s production is exported. 

What would a Wisconsin meal be without cheese?
They don’t call us “cheeseheads” for nothing. Wisconsin ranks number one in the United States for cheese production. Whether it’s cheese and crackers before dinner, shredded cheese sprinkled in our salads or on our potatoes, or baked with love into our green bean casseroles, it’s hard to imagine Thanksgiving without delicious Wisconsin cheese.

Wash it down with an ice-cold glass of milk. 
Wisconsin has been the country’s leading dairy state since 1915, and it’s a proud tradition we hold today. Our state is a national leader in milk production with more than 10,000 dairy farms, each with an average of 120 dairy cows. 

And don’t forget the cranberry sauce.
Wisconsin has been the largest producer of cranberries in the country for the last 20 years. In fact, Wisconsin is the largest producer of cranberries in the world. They are Wisconsin’s largest fruit industry, and the cranberry was declared the official state fruit in 2004. More than 250 growers throughout the state produce cranberries on land that spans 20 counties. That’s a lot of cranberries! 

I’m thankful for many things, including my family, friends, health, and the privilege of serving the people of Wisconsin’s Fifth District. Thank you for the opportunity to be your representative. Have a safe and blessed Thanksgiving Day.