Scolded by President Bush for failing to renew the Patriot Act, lawmakers explored possibilities Monday for a compromise to temporarily extend portions of the anti-terrorism law due to expire Dec. 31.
Democrats have offered to extend the expiring provisions for three months or a little longer while key Republicans have insisted that any extension be stretched out to one to four years.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist suggested he’d consider any such deal only a last resort.
“Until I am satisfied that this thing can’t be won, I am not for an extension at all,” Frist told the Associated Press late Monday in a brief hallway interview.
Earlier in the day, Bush showed his frustration at a news conference.
“It is inexcusable to say to the American people, you know, we’re going to be tough on terror but take away the very tools necessary to help fight these people,” Bush said.
Frist and the president have framed the choice facing lawmakers as an ultimatum: Pass a House-Senate accord that would renew 14 provisions of the act permanently and two others for four years or let them expire and leave the nation more vulnerable to attacks. What would follow, both sides promise, is an election year debate over who killed the Patriot Act.
Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., who’s led a successful filibuster against renewing the legislation likened it to a game of legislative “chicken.”
Bush’s tough rhetoric Monday set off the first talk by supporters of the stalled House-Senate compromise of options other than the expiration of the 16 provisions.
Just after the president’s news conference, Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., discussed a one- to four-year extension during a colloquy on the Senate floor. The time frame springs from a one-year extension floated earlier this month by senior Senate Republicans and the four-year minimum that would be accepted by House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.
The House adjourned for the year Monday but left open the possibility of reconvening Thursday if the Senate doesn’t complete budget, defense and social service-education bills. Any extension of the Patriot Act could be passed by unanimous consent then without a formal vote, House officials said. The Senate could do the same, enabling Bush to sign the measure into law before Dec. 31.