If nothing else, the results of the midterm elections made clear that Americans are concerned about the role of government in their lives. And perhaps no issue better exemplifies government overreach than the National Security Agency’s collection of data from millions of Americans.

Less than a year and half after Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s invasive snooping, congressional leaders have worked to craft comprehensive reform legislation both to restore Americans’ privacy and to ensure their security. In a political landscape mired in gridlock, this bipartisan effort has been a true bright spot. Dubbed the USA FREEDOM Act, the bill already has passed the House and now is sitting at the finish line in the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. has filed a cloture motion to bring the measure to a floor vote.

Cooperating with Reid isn’t usually their priority, but Republicans would do well to pass this legislation now. Next year, Section 215 of the Patriot Act is set to expire. If Congress doesn’t address the issue now, they will be forced to repeat this same conversation next year, almost certainly prompting an ugly fight among Republicans over privacy and security. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, should want to avoid both redundant work and the need to place a roiling intra-party conflict on the agenda.

There also are signs that our political leaders are beginning to recognize the economic impact of NSA overreach. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. recently explained that “American tech companies have experienced a backlash from both American and foreign consumers and they’ve lost their competitive edge in the global marketplace.” A recent R Street Institute report explores how the mistrust and concerns prompted by the NSA revelations “could cost U.S. technology industry between $35 billion and $180 billion over the next three years.” As our nation continues to struggle out of the economic doldrums, Congress should avoid further damage to U.S. companies.

H.R. 3361 originally was introduced last fall by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. to rein in the NSA’s dragnet data collection, authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Unfortunately, due to the influence of national security hawks, the bill’s language was neutered by expanding the definition of “specific selection term.” This change kept the door open for the NSA to continue mass spying and surveillance of Americans. In May, over the objections of civil libertarians, the tech community and many of the bill’s original cosponsors, the House passed a watered-down version of the bill.

Instead of settling for this weakened approach, the improved version before the Senate is one Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. reintroduced with compromise language crafted to satisfy both White House concerns and the trepidations of many civil libertarians and tech companies. The new Leahy bill tightened the “specific selection term” and created “safeguards limiting large-scale surveillance of Americans.” This compromise has even prompted outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper to pen a letter saying their agencies support the bill and “believe that it is a reasonable compromise that enhances privacy and civil liberties and increases transparency.”

Many will remember the 113th Congress for gridlock, a government shutdown and poor approval ratings. While there should be no illusion that passage of meaningful NSA reform will fix Washington, it could be a catalyst for Congress and the administration to actually work together and respond to Americans’ real concerns. Instead of procrastinating on an already large agenda, Congress should take action now to curb government overreach and protect Americans’ privacy.

Featured Publications