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H.R. 428: Homeland Security Assessment of Terrorists’ Use of Virtual Currencies Act

Jan 29, 2019 at 2:41 p.m. ET. On Motion to Suspend the Rules and Pass in the House.

This was a vote to pass H.R. 428 in the House. This vote was taken under a House procedure called “suspension of the rules” which is typically used to pass non-controversial bills. Votes under suspension require a 2/3rds majority. A failed vote under suspension can be taken again.

When terrorists groups increasingly relying on Bitcoin and other similar virtual currencies, what should be done?

Context

Bitcoin is the most famous among several prominent virtual currencies, a new type of digital payment system to arise in the 2010s. These offer several features that “traditional” money doesn’t have, such as being universal and thus negating the need for exchange rates between countries.

Yet the most prominent new feature is anonymity. The technological specifics of how they maintain anonymity are complex and use a new technology called blockchain. But the short version is Bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies combine the anonymity of cash with the digital near-immediacy of credit cards, PayPal, Venmo, and the like.

Unfortunately, that makes it a potential gold mine for hate groups, assassins, and terrorists — because previously almost nobody wanted a charge to ISIS or the KKK on their MasterCard or Visa bill under their own name.

What the bill does

Enter the Homeland Security Assessment of Terrorists’ Use of Virtual Currencies Act.

The bill would require the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis to submit a report to Congress on terrorist groups’ use of virtual currencies and cryptocurrencies.

Technically this bill wouldn’t change any federal policies — but depending on the results and findings of the subsequent report by intelligence officials, it could potentially change federal policies.

It was introduced on January 10 as bill number H.R. 428, by Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY4).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the legislation provides Congress with the knowledge and information necessary to maintain an edge over those who would use such new forms of financing to cause harm.

“There’s no question that threat of terrorism has evolved with the advent of new technology, and it’s critical that we stay ahead of these threats at all times,” Rep. Rice said in a press release. “Virtual currencies have exposed deep vulnerabilities in our counterterrorism efforts, creating new opportunities for terrorist organizations to finance their operations using the darkest corners of the Internet.”

“And right now, our government lacks a comprehensive strategy with which to respond,” Rep. Rice continued. “This bill will give law enforcement officials at all levels the 21st-century solutions, information and resources they need to counter this emerging threat.”

What opponents say

Opponents are concerned that the bill could be a seemingly-innocuous first step towards regulation or even possible banning of cryptocurrencies, which they view as heavy-handed government intrusion into economic activity.

While no member actually spoke in opposition during the House floor debate on the bill to offer their reasoning in their own words, Rep. Rice anticipated some defections from more libertarian-minded members.

“I encourage my colleagues in the Freedom Caucus, who care so much about national security and domestic security, to put their money where their mouths are, to put political pettiness aside,” Rep. Rice said on the House floor. “Let these votes go through as they are meant to, because these are bipartisan bills.”

Odds of passage

The bill passed the House on January 29 by a 422–3 vote. Every Democrat voted in favor, as did almost every Republican except three libertarian-leaning congressmen: Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI3), Matt Gaetz (R-FL1), and Thomas Massie (R-KY4).

An identical version introduced by Rep. Rice in 2017 also passed the House on a voice vote, in which no record of individual members’ votes is recorded, a procedure used for relatively non-controversial bills. However, that version never received a vote in the Senate, so it’s difficult to say whether this new version will either.

Totals

All Votes D R
Yea 99%
 
 
422
231
 
191
 
Nay 1%
 
 
3
0
 
3
 
Not Voting
 
 
7
3
 
4
 

Passed. 2/3 Required. Source: house.gov.

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Study Guide

How well do you understand this vote? Use this study guide to find out.

You can find answers to most of the questions below here on the vote page. For a guide to understanding the bill this vote was about, see here.

What was the procedure for this vote?

  1. What was this vote on?
  2. Not all votes are meant to pass legislation. In the Senate some votes are not about legislation at all, since the Senate must vote to confirm presidential nominations to certain federal positions.

    This vote is related to a bill. However, that doesn’t necessarily tell you what it is about. Congress makes many decisions in the process of passing legislation, such as on the procedures for debating the bill, whether to change the bill before voting on passage, and even whether to vote on passage at all.

    You can learn more about the various motions used in Congress at EveryCRSReport.com. If you aren’t sure what the House was voting on, try seeing if it’s on this list.

  3. What is the next step after this vote?
  4. Take a look at where this bill is in the legislative process. What might come next? Keep in mind what this specific vote was on, and the context of the bill. Will there be amendments? Will the other chamber of Congress vote on it, or let it die?

    For this question it may help to briefly examine the bill itself.

What is your analysis of this vote?

  1. What trends do you see in this vote?
  2. Members of Congress side together for many reasons beside being in the same political party, especially so for less prominent legislation or legislation specific to a certain region. What might have determined how the roll call came out in this case? Does it look like Members of Congress voted based on party, geography, or some other reason?

    One tool that will be helpful in answering this question is the cartogram at the top of the page. A cartogram is a stylized map of the United States that shows each district as an identical hexagon. This view allows you to see the how the representatives from each district voted arranged by their geography and colored by their political party. What trends can you see in the cartogram for this vote?

  3. How did your representative vote?
  4. There is one vote here that should be more important to you than all the others. These are the votes cast by your representative, which is meant to represent you and your community. Do you agree with how your representative voted? Why do you think they voted the way they did?

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