WASHINGTON — The House last week voted to end the National Security Agency’s mass collection of telephone records, a piece of the Patriot Act decried as a privacy invasion but which the Obama administration says is crucial to detect potential terrorist attacks.

WASHINGTON — The House last week voted to end the National Security Agency’s mass collection of telephone records, a piece of the Patriot Act decried as a privacy invasion but which the Obama administration says is crucial to detect potential terrorist attacks.


After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, NSA began collecting data on telephone calls that could then be analyzed for links to terrorist suspects. The secret program was revealed two years ago by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.


The bill that was approved 338-88 said NSA could no longer store the records but would be able to search a targeted range of data with court approval.


Proponents argued the bill struck a balance between national security and privacy rights. Opponents argued that it did not go far enough in protecting the privacy of ordinary Americans.


"This bill is an extremely well-drafted compromise, the product of nearly two years of work. It effectively protects America’s civil liberties and our national security," said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who was a key architect of the original 2001 Patriot Act.


Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., argued that the bill did not go far enough to protect individuals from warrantless searches and seizures of themselves and their property.


"The bill’s purpose was to rein in the NSA’s bulk data collection program but failed on that front," he said. "The bill leaves the door open for the government to search geographic regions instead of the entire country as it does now … I don’t think the Founding Fathers’ intent of the Fourth Amendment was to have it apply only in cases of nationwide warrantless searches."


Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, French Hill, R-Little Rock, and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, voted for the bill.


House approves anti-abortion measure


The House approved a bill that would prohibit most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the mother’s life.


Proponents argued that at 20 weeks fetuses are able to feel pain and therefore it is immoral to allow abortions beyond that time.


"We know that by five months in the womb, unborn babies are capable of feeling pain, and it is morally wrong to inflict pain on an innocent human being. Protecting these lives is the right thing to do," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.


Opponents said the bill was a direct challenge to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortions legal before viability, which is generally considered around 24 weeks of pregnancy. They also argued that the bill imposed new limits on the rape exemption by requiring that any woman seeking an abortion after 20 weeks prove that she either reported the rape to the authorities or sought counseling services.


"What does this narrow exemption say about our Republican colleagues’ view of women? It is quite simple. This bill says they believe women lie. The Republicans seem to think that women are too dishonest to believe when they say they have been raped," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.


The bill passed 242-184. Womack, Westerman, Hill and Crawford voted for it.


EPA water regulation challenged


The House approved legislation that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon a proposed regulation on what bodies of waters are subject to the Clean Water Act and start the process over.


EPA has yet to release a final version of the regulation but critics said an early draft was vague and confusing, raising concerns among farmers and others that the federal government was proposing to regulate everything from streams to puddles.


Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., argued that EPA should start again and respect the right of individual states to be the primary regulator of bodies of water within their boundaries.


"Not all waters need to be subjected to federal jurisdiction," he said.


Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, said EPA has been working on a final regulation that addresses many of the concerns raised by the public. Congress, he argued, should wait for the final rule to be published before determining if it is acceptable or not.


The House voted 261-155 in favor of ditching the regulation and starting over. Womack, Westerman and Hill voted for the bill. Crawford did not vote.


"DREAMer" measure stripped from defense bill


A measure aimed at allowing so-called "DREAMers" to enlist in the military if they have qualified for deportation deferrals and work permits was rejected by the House.


The non-binding provision had been included in a broader defense authorization bill but was removed by House Republicans who oppose President Obama’s administrative actions on immigration.


A "DREAMer" is a person who was brought into the United States illegally as a child but who has qualified to stay and work under two-year permits under a program Obama initiated in 2012. The term "DREAMer" is an acronym for the program.


Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., had proposed the measure to allow illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States since childhood to volunteer to serve in the military if they qualify under the deferred deportation program.


"These young people are Americans in every respect except on paper," he said. "I fought in Iraq and I know what really matters on the battlefield isn’t whether you have the right papers it is whether you have the heart to fight, patriotism for your country, and the right character."


Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., argued against the provision.


"The House should not take action to legitimize the president’s unconstitutional overreach regarding immigration," he said. "Especially that for deferring the removal of an entire class of hundreds of thousands of unlawful aliens."


The provision supporting DREAMers was removed from the bill in a 221-202 vote. Womack, Westerman, Hill and Crawford voted to remove it.


Senate stops and starts trade debate


The Senate spent much of the week in legislative limbo as leaders attempted to move forward on President Obama’s request for fast-track trade authority to conclude negotiations on a 12-nation trade treaty.


Senate Democrats blocked an initial effort to bring the bill to the floor for debate, arguing that additional measures were needed to protect against currency manipulation and to ensure protections for U.S. workers who lose jobs that are shipped overseas.


After failing to secure a 60-vote majority needed to overcome an early filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., agreed to a deal that set up votes on those measures.


"We on this (Republican) side believe strongly in lifting up the middle class and knocking down unfair trade barriers that discriminate against American workers and American products in the 21st century. On this issue, the president agrees," McConnell said.


Ultimately, the Senate voted 65-33 to move forward on the "fast track" authority that Obama requested.


The Senate may not complete action on the bill until June.


Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., voted to move the bill forward.