WASHINGTON (AP) - The Republican-controlled House plans to
quickly renew portions of the USA Patriot Act before they
expire at the end of the year. Some Republicans say the
nation's safety could be endangered if the Senate doesn't
follow suit.
The House on Wednesday was expected to pass a White
House-backed bill that would renew more than a dozen
provisions of the Act - the government's premier post-Sept.
11 anti-terrorism law - which are due to expire Dec. 31.
But saving those provisions will be more difficult in the
Republican-controlled Senate, where some Republican and
Democratic senators are unsatisfied with the compromise
bill, which was worked out last week between key
Republicans in the House and Senate.
At least one senator, Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin,
is threatening a filibuster.
House leaders and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on
Tuesday warned the bill's opponents that they could be
putting the country in danger by holding up the Act's
reauthorization.
"The consequence of the Patriot Act expiring on December
31st is going to be putting the American people at greater
risk," House Judiciary Committee Chairman James
Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, said.
Added Gonzales: "The tools in the reauthorization of the
Patriot Act are very important to the success of the
Department of Justice in protecting this country."
For the White House and congressional Republicans,
renewing the centerpiece of President George W. Bush's war
on terror is a top priority with the midterm elections
coming up next year.
Bush devoted his Saturday radio address to the subject and
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist added his voice Sunday.
Congress overwhelmingly passed the Patriot Act after the
Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The law expanded the
government's surveillance and prosecutorial powers against
suspected terrorists, their associates and financiers.
The vast majority of the Patriot Act would remain in force
even if the House-Senate agreement to renew the expiring
provisions fails. The reauthorization language would extend
for four years two of the Patriot Act's most controversial
provisions - authorizing roving wiretaps and permitting
secret warrants for books, records and other items from
businesses, hospitals and organizations such as libraries.
Those provisions would expire in four years unless
Congress acted on them again.
About a dozen Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are
complaining that the Patriot Act gives government too much
power to investigate people's private transactions,
including bank, library, medical and computer records. They
also say it doesn't place enough limits on the FBI's use of
National Security Letters, which compel third parties to
produce those documents during terrorism investigations.
Senate Democrats joined by some libertarian-leaning
Republicans want to extend the expiring provisions of the
law by three months to give Congress time to add more
protections against what they say are excessive police
powers.
"There's no reason to compromise right to due process,
the right to a judicial review, fair and reasonable
standards of evidence in the pursuit of our security,"
said Republican Sen. John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, one
of several senators urging Congress to move the expiration
date to March 31.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid supports efforts to
delay the vote, including a filibuster threatened by
Feingold, "so there will be more time to work on a good
bipartisan bill," said his spokesman, Jim Manley.
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On the Net:
Justice Department's Web site on the USA Patriot Act:
http://www.lifeandliberty.gov/
ACLU's Patriot Act Web site: http://www.aclu.org/safefree