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Republicans join Obama as amendment to defund NSA fails

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(RNN) - In a vote that went down to the wire, an amendment that would have effectively defunded the National Security Agency's ability to spy on all Americans' phone records without a warrant failed to pass in Congress.

The final tally for the amendment, which was brought to the House by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), was 205-217, failing by only 12 votes. Although it failed, proponents of the bill say that the closeness of the vote sends a strong message to the Obama administration, which came out strongly against the bill, urging lawmakers not to pass it.

The amendment would have cut funding to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which contains language that makes it legal for the NSA to collect and store an unlimited amount of Americans' phone records without a warrant.

The White House was adamantly opposed to the Amash Amendment. And in a rare occurrence in Obama's presidency in which the opposing party voted according to his wishes, Republicans made sure it didn't pass. Democrats voted in favor by a 111-83 count while Republicans voted against it 94-134.

Prominent conservatives like Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), both known for being highly critical of the Obama administration, gave impassioned pleas against the bill before the vote was held.

Bachmann argued that the NSA surveillance program that collects records of all Americans does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

"There is more information about you in the phone books on your kitchen table than there is in the National Security database," Bachmann said.

Rogers argued that defunding the phone records program would make Americans less safe.

"Passing this amendment takes us back to Sept. 10," he said.

Although Republicans ultimately stopped the bill from passing, it has broad bipartisan support.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), a conservative who co-wrote the Patriot Act, spoke in favor of the bill.

And Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) said the NSA surveillance program forces Americans to pay for restrictions of their freedom.

"I cannot, in good conscience, vote to take a single dollar from the pockets of hard-working taxpayers from across the country to pay for programs which infringe on the very liberties and freedoms our troops have fought and died for," she said.

Another amendment limiting NSA surveillance was put forth by Rep. Richard Nugent (R-FL) and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) that easily passed the House. However, critics of the amendment have called it a "red herring," arguing it does nothing to defund NSA surveillance and merely offers new language for what is already allowed under current law.

The closeness of the vote brought together civil libertarian Republicans and progressive Democrats in what has become a common alliance when it comes to the debate on the intersection of national security and individual privacy.

And to privacy rights advocates like David Segal, executive director of civil liberties group Demand Progress, the bipartisanship showing and close vote is seen as a sign that privacy-eroding policies begun during the George W. Bush presidency are losing favor.

"Today's vote shows that the tide is turning, that the American people, when they are aware of these programs, overwhelmingly reject them, and the expiration date on these programs is coming due," Segal said.

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