Back in January, when this Congress was brand new and Mitch McConnell was taking the reins as majority leader of the Senate, he pledged "to get committees working again."
It's surprising, then, that, in late April, McConnell moved to bypass the committee process to fast-track a five-year extension of the government's authority to conduct mass surveillance of U.S. citizens' phone calls.
McConnell's move, which seems to violate his pledge to pass bills through committee, also is a blow to a bipartisan effort in both chambers to enact some curbs on the collection of phone records.
June 1 is the expiration date for three provisions of the Patriot Act, including Section 215, which the National Security Agency uses to sweep up records of millions of calls made by people who are under suspicion of nothing.
Last November, when McConnell was still minority leader, he engineered a filibuster that killed a bipartisan reform bill, the U.S.A. Freedom Act.
It had garnered a remarkable cross-section of support for ending bulk collection of phone data and requiring court approval to obtain records from phone companies as needed, while allowing other post-9/11 spying activities to continue.
With the June 1 deadline looming, McConnell's political calculus is unclear. He has yet to release any statements explaining why he and Senate Intelligence chairman Richard Burr dropped a bill last week to extend the expiring Patriot Act provisions through 2020.
Their move will meet opposition from those who want to reform the Patriot Act and those who want to repeal it altogether, a group that includes McConnell's fellow Kentucky Republicans Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Thomas Massie.
In filing the bill with Burr, McConnell invoked a rule allowing it to bypass committee and go straight to the floor for a vote.
Until Edward Snowden's revelations almost two years ago, the phone surveillance was secret. Also, until Snowden's revelations, there was a move within the NSA to end it.
As CBS reported last month, "The internal critics pointed out that the already high costs of vacuuming up and storing the 'to and from' information from nearly every domestic land-line call were rising, the system was not capturing most cellphone calls, and the program was not central to unraveling terrorist plots ... They worried about public outrage if the program ever was revealed."
Given the widespread doubts, the public is owed a full and open debate — free of procedural shortcuts — on whether the purported gains in security justify the loss of privacy and the threat to civil liberties.