"I never dreamed it would ever be used for dragnet surveillance of every American phone call, even if only for metadata. And frankly that's way beyond what Congress intended," he said.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank often cited by Republicans, released an analysis that warned the amendment would "increase the risks of terrorist attacks by limiting the scope of court-ordered foreign intelligence collection and thereby depriving the U.S. of valuable intelligence it currently collects."
But at a monthly forum sponsored by Heritage that features some of the House's most conservative members, that argument didn't sway many members. Eight of the nine lawmakers on the Wednesday panel, which included Amash, said they planned to vote for it.
Rep Michele Bachmann, a leader of the tea party movement on Capitol Hill, broke with fellow conservative lawmakers, saying the NSA program collects phone records from telecommunications companies not individuals, so there is "no expectation of privacy."
A member of the House Intelligence Committee, Bachmann warned that "if we take this program and remove from the United States the distinct advantage we have versus any other country it would be those that would be seeking to achieve the goals of Islamic Jihad who will benefit from by putting the United States at risk."
The defense spending bill now moves to the Senate, but that chamber has not considered its version yet in committee or scheduled a floor vote. But in the Senate, there is little support for making major changes to the NSA program.
Before the vote Nadler said even this amendment failed he and other opponents of the program would continue to press for changes.
"It simply will not be renewed when it expires in 2015. It's going to end - now or later. The only question is when and on what terms."