This Week in Congress

The Senate will consider nominations and three tax treaties, one with Spain, one with Japan, and one with Luxembourg. Senator Rand Paul has objected to the treaties on the grounds they may threaten the confidentiality of American’s tax records. At this writing, it is unclear what actions Senator Paul will take regarding these treaties.


The House is in session Monday through Thursday. The House will consider H.R. 3494, the Intelligence Authorization Act. The bill increases spending by 1.4% above the president’s request. Exact appropriation numbers are unavailable.


The bill creates a “climate security advisory council” to ensure that intelligence agencies incorporate climate change concerns into their work. The bill also requires a report on domestic terrorism (wonder if they’ll ask for assistance from fusion centers). It also creates routes to incentivize development of 5G and technologies to automatically detect machine manipulated media.


One provision of the bill that has raised concerns broadens the definition of “covert agent” to include an agent who has served overseas within the past five years ... so someone who spent a month overseas five years ago would now be considered a covert agent.


Since it is a federal crime to reveal the identity of a covert agent, broadening this definition would criminalize any reporting on things the government does not want us to know about - including information regarding torture programs, unconstitutional surveillance, and other civil liberties violations.


Campaign for Liberty has co-signed the following letter opposing this provision:


July 8, 2019


The Honorable Mitch McConnell Majority Leader

United States Senate


The Honorable Charles Schumer Minority Leader

United States Senate


The Honorable Nancy Pelosi


United States House of Representatives


The Honorable Kevin McCarthy Minority Leader

United States House of Representatives


Dear Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and Leader McCarthy:


The undersigned groups write to ask that you remove a provision in the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 that would dramatically expand the existing federal crime of disclosing the identity of intelligence operatives. The provision, which is Section 305 in H.R. 3494 and S. 1589 (S. 1589 has also been added to S. 1790, the National Defense Authorization Act), would permit the prosecution of reporters or any other person who discloses the identity of a current or retired operative, regardless of whether the disclosure is necessary to reveal government misconduct or threats to the intelligence agencies themselves. It would also obstruct congressional oversight of the intelligence community and hinder public access to information.

The provision would expand the definition of “covert agent” for purposes of prosecution under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, in what appears to be a clear attempt to subvert transparency, oversight, and accountability. Under current law, “covert agent” is defined as an individual: (1) whose relationship with the intelligence community is classified, and (2) (for U.S. citizens) either resides or serves outside the United States or has done so within the past five years.


This provision would remove the second requirement and define all U.S. citizens with a classified relationship with the U.S. intelligence community as “covert agents” regardless of when (if ever) they last served overseas. In doing so, it makes the definition apply indefinitely, even after retirement.


Among other potential impacts, the provision would:


Impede congressional oversight. Without any congressionally imposed limits, whether an individual qualified as a “covert agent” would depend entirely on classification decisions by the executive branch, which can be highly inconsistent and excessive. It would harm congressional oversight of the intelligence community, making it much more difficult to obtain information about almost any individual’s relationship to intelligence agencies and allowing the executive branch to avoid oversight through arbitrary classification. Additionally, it would potentially make it more difficult for intelligence community whistleblowers to approach Congress with reports of fraud, waste, and abuse.


Weaken accountability. In a statement found in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on S. 1589, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) noted that the provision could be used to shield officials from accountability, even those who have “become senior management or have retired.” His concern stemmed from the provision’s indefinite timeline, as well as the CIA’s request for the provision’s inclusion, in which the agency explained the need for the expansion of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act by citing “incidents related to past Agency programs, such as the RDI investigation.’’ The specific reference to the CIA’s torture program is a troubling sign that the agency intends to use this provision to further reduce transparency around the long-defunct program, which remains shrouded in secrecy.


Obstruct public access to information. The provision would limit disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act by significantly expanding both the number of intelligence identities currently allowed to be withheld under FOIA exemptions and by increasing the duration those identities are protected. It would also delay declassification of historical information and potentially censor information currently available to the public.


Create a chilling effect. Because of the potentially widespread legal ramifications for working with individuals who have retired or otherwise left their work with the intelligence community, this provision would likely have a profound chilling effect on journalists’ and public interest organizations’ work.


This provision is an extremely broad expansion of felony criminal penalties, and delegates authority as to when those penalties apply to the executive branch. It would be significantly damaging to transparency, oversight, and accountability, and should be removed from the Intelligence Authorization Act.


Thank you for your consideration. For more information, please contact Lisa Rosenberg at Open the Government, lrosenberg@openthegovernment.org or 202-332-6736.




American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee American Civil Liberties Union


Amnesty International


Campaign for Liberty


Center for Victims of Torture Constitutional Alliance Defending Rights and Dissent Demand Progress


Electronic Frontier Foundation


Electronic Privacy Information Center Government Accountability Project


Government Information Watch


Human Rights First


Human Rights Watch


National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers National Coalition Against Censorship


National Freedom of Information Coalition National Religious Campaign Against Torture National Security Archive


No More Guantanamos

North Carolina Stop Torture Now


Open the Government


Physicians for Human Rights


Project On Government Oversight


Radio Television Digital News Association Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Society of Professional Journalists TechFreedom


Win Without War



Chairman Richard Burr

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence


Chairman Adam Schiff

House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence


Ranking Member Mark Warner

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence


Ranking Member Devin Nunes

House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence


For more about this issue see here and here.


The House will also vote on H.R. 582, legislation raising the minimum wage to $15 over six years. (If Congress really wanted to give Americans a raise, they would do something about the Federal Reserve’s depression of the dollar.)


Campaign for Liberty signed the following letter against raising the minimum wage:


Dear Members of Congress:


The undersigned organizations urge you to oppose the Raise the Wage Act (H.R. 582), which would set a $15 federal minimum wage by 2024. Alleviating poverty and raising the standard of living for all Americans is a laudable effort, but study and experience have shown that government-mandated minimum wages are inferior to market-determined wages and cause more harm than good.


A one-size-fits-all approach to setting a uniform, federal minimum wage will have disastrous effects on many workers and local and state economies, especially as earnings vary greatly geographically and from urban areas to non-urban.


Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the average wage is nearly 26 percent higher in metropolitan areas than in non-metro areas. At the county level the variance in earnings is more pronounced. In Fairfax and Loudoun County, Virginia, the median household income is over $110,000, but in Lincoln County, Montana, the median household income is only slightly above $35,000. In high cost-of-living areas, like New York City and the Washington, D.C. metro area, a $15 minimum wage may have less impact, but it could matter a great deal in small communities across the country. American Enterprise Institute scholar Mark Perry aptly refers to a single, national minimum wage as really a “one-size-fits-none approach.”


A $15 minimum wage is a poor mechanism to lift the poor out of poverty. There are tradeoffs to raising the minimum wage, many of which do more harm to low-skilled workers than help. Unskilled or inexperienced workers are less attractive to businesses to hire when the minimum wage is set at a high level. Worse, a minimum wage that prices low-skilled workers out of a job has long-lasting effects by depriving them the opportunity to attain skills and increase their productivity by gaining on-the-job experience.


A study that examined data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which spans three decades, measures the benefit of getting an early start in the workforce. The findings show the importance of early work experience, which a $15 minimum wage would stunt. Young adults who merely took on part-time work during high school saw a wage premium over their unemployed peers. More importantly, the wage premium held over time: “Checking in when the respondents were in their 40s or 50s, the wage premium held up: The people who held a job in high school were still earning 9.4 percent more per hour.”

High minimum wages negatively impact employment. In a comprehensive review of credible minimum wage research produced over the past several decades, two economists, one from the Federal Reserve Board and one from University of California-Irvine, found that 85 percent of the analyses determined it had negative employment effects.


Recent analysis conducted by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on a $15 minimum wage that is phased-in by 2025 reinforces the above conclusion. In the worst-case scenario, 3.7 million workers would become jobless. According to the CBO’s median estimate, 1.3 million workers would lose their jobs. In addition, the CBO estimates a $15 minimum wage would ultimately “reduce total real income by about $9 billion in 2025.” In other words, total income in the United States would be greater without a minimum wage hike.


And, importantly, raising the minimum wage comes at an expense of the unemployed, businesses, and higher prices for consumers. A $15 minimum wage results in business owners’ income decreasing by $14 billion, earnings of unemployed individuals would decrease by $20 billion, and income of consumers would decrease by $39 billion, according to CBO estimates.


The undersigned organizations urge members of Congress to oppose the Raise the Wage Act and instead work to remove needless tax and regulatory barriers to work and cut red tape that makes it difficult to start a business.


For a look at the racist roots of the minimum wage, see here.

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