The House on Wednesday agreed to extend the USA Patriot Act for a
month while conservative Republicans and the White House work out
changes intended to protect people from government intrusion.
GOP-controlled House used a voice vote to keep the law in effect until
March 10 so negotiators have more time to come up with a deal. The
Senate was expected to follow before the law expires on Friday.
before leaving for Christmas, Congress extended the law until Feb. 3.
Senate Democrats and four libertarian-leaning Republicans had blocked a
final vote on a measure negotiated by the White House that would have
made permanent most expiring provisions. The Republicans were concerned
about excessive police powers.
“It is imperative that we not play
political games with the tools that our law enforcement needs to
prevent another terrorist attack,” said the chairman of the House
Judiciary Committee, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.
Democrats said they did not want the Patriot Act to expire but are
pressing for civil rights protections before renewing it permanently.
The extension “will give members a chance to work together,” said Rep.
Robert Scott, D-Va.
Added Rep. Jane Harmon, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee: “We must extend it, mend it, but not end it. “
would be the second time Congress has extended the law. Originally
passed five weeks after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Patriot Act
was due to expire Dec. 31.
President Bush in his State of the
Union speech Tuesday called on Congress to renew the expiring 16
provisions. “The enemy has not lost the desire or capability to attack
us. Fortunately, this nation has superb professionals in law
enforcement, intelligence, the military and homeland security,” Bush
The law makes it easier for federal agents to gather and
share information in terrorism investigations, install wiretaps and
conduct secret searches of households and businesses. At issue are 16
provisions that Congress wanted reviewed and renewed by the end of last
Objections to the compromise last fall centered on the
degree to which people and institutions that receive National Security
Letters _ secret requests for phone, business and Internet records _
can appeal them in court.
Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and John
Sununu, R-N.H., say the law makes it nearly impossible to challenge
such letters and their secretive demands for information. Craig told
reporters this week that the White House had agreed to some changes
that would address his concerns, but declined to describe the talks