As any longstanding observer of congressional practice will attest, it pays to keep an eye on the small print and bottom lines as a piece of legislation is passed from hand to hand on Capitol Hill.
It hasn’t happened yet, but there may someday be an accidentally successful line amendment banning pork in a pork barrel bill.
In the meantime, however, the task is to sift through language that frequently says less than it really means, or means more than it apparently says. This may well be the case in the provision hitched to the Patriot Act by Rep. Melissa Hart, a Republican from Western Pennsylvania.
Hart, a rising star in the House GOP, is intent on cutting off any flow, real or potential, of American dollars to terrorist groups who wish the U.S. ill.
Few will have any argument with this, but there is the potential for far more restrictive action in Hart’s amendment extending well beyond the boundaries of national security.
Congressman Joe Crowley and others have spotted this and are intent on drawing from Hart a more defined statement of intent than is evident in a first reading of her amendment.
All too often in recent years there has been excessive blending in Washington of legitimate concern over terrorism and illegal immigration.
Any member of Congress wishing to push for immigration reform these days is required to expound in great detail on national security before even daring to mention the “i” word.
The Hart amendment contains numerous references to terrorists and the practice of paperless banking by means of so-called Hawalas.
Hawala is a Hindi word that means “in trust.” The process of transferring money through Hawalas more often than not has nothing at all to do with terrorism.
It usually involves simply getting money to a relative in an immigrant’s native country who might not possess a bank account.
It might, in the broad language of the Hart amendment, also mean cashing a check in a bar when obtaining a bank account is not possible.
Clearly it is necessary to stop money raised in the U.S. from going to terrorists.
But any legislation aimed at enforcing this goal has to be defined to the point where the mere financial transaction, even if legally questionable, does not imply a far greater guilt.
Hopefully the reach, and the limits, of the Hart amendment will be more clearly defined in the House/Senate conference that will precede the near future signing into law of the revamped Patriot Act.