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Author:  Ontheoutside [ Thu Dec 15, 2005 5:35 am ]

Patriot Act's fate remains uncertain
Despite strong House support, opposition brewing in Senate

Wednesday, December 14, 2005; Posted: 9:11 p.m. EST (02:11 GMT)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is lobbying senators to pass the Patriot Act approved by the House.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Roving wiretaps and the ability to peek into private medical records are among the provisions of the anti-terror Patriot Act that will remain intact if the Senate follows the House lead on the bill.

By a 251-174 vote Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives agreed to renew 16 of the act's provisions that were set to expire at year's end. The bill now heads back to the Senate, where a fiercer battle is expected.

"The Patriot Act is essential to fighting the war on terror and preventing our enemies from striking America again," President Bush said in a statement praising the House vote. "In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment."

Among the provisions the House proposes to extend is one allowing the FBI, with a court order, to place wiretaps on every phone a suspect uses -- a procedure called a roving wiretap -- and another permitting the agency to obtain personal records, including medical documents and library activity.

With Senate approval, these investigative tools would be available to the FBI for another four years. The majority of the act, however, has no expiration date.

Civil liberty advocates have inspired changes to some of the act's provisions that they consider troubling, namely one that allows authorities to obtain warrants and search suspects' homes without telling them, if it would jeopardize an ongoing investigation. (Watch some provisions that worry privacy advocates -- 2:03)

Under the bill passed Wednesday, subjects of search warrants would have to be notified within 30 days, but authorities are allowed to ask for extensions.

The bill also changes the rules surrounding National Security Letters, which the FBI has increasingly used in the past few years to request a variety of personal information, including financial, phone and Internet records.

The letters have been criticized because of the secrecy surrounding them, but if the bill's changes become law, the U.S. Department of Justice will have to divulge how often they are used and perform audits of their use.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff are among those lobbying Congress to pass the reauthorization bill, saying it is essential to fighting terrorism.

In an opinion piece in The Washington Post on Wednesday, Gonzales emphasized the need for urgency in passing the bill "before the men and women in law enforcement lose the tools they need to keep us safe."

But a bipartisan group of nine senators is rejecting the call to pass the bill swiftly and wants to garner support for a three-month extension to allow negotiators to craft a new bill.

"It is not too late to remedy the problems with the conference report," states a letter from the senators urging their colleagues to vote against halting debate when the bill reaches the floor.

Gonzales this week joined Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in rejecting the idea of reopening negotiations or temporarily extending the bill. Sensenbrenner said the present proposal should be ratified or the expiring provisions and changes to the bill will die.

Another proponent of the bill, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, said that he was opposed to "a short-term extension," according to The Associated Press.

GOP consensus is not a given, though, as four Republican senators, including Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire, have already indicated their opposition to the bill, and Sununu said the foursome has secured "a bit more support."

Also looking for support is Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, who was the only senator to vote against the original Patriot Act in 2001. He has called the House bill "a major disappointment" and vowed to do everything he can, including filibuster, to stop the bill's passage.

Feingold made his comments after Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, announced last week that House and Senate negotiators had agreed on a version of the Patriot Act that Spector said found a balance between national security and civil liberties.

Under the compromise, three controversial elements of the act -- including the roving wiretaps and access to personal records -- would be renewed for four years, instead of the House-proposed 10, a deal Specter said wasn't perfect, but better than maintaining the present Patriot Act or having no Patriot Act at all. The bill including those provisions is what the House voted on Wednesday.

"Merely sunsetting bad law is not adequate," Feingold said. "We need to make substantive changes to the law, and without those changes I am confident there will be strong, bipartisan opposition here in the Senate."

Frist told CNN he would not support extending the Patriot Act, unrevised, simply to avoid a filibuster fight.


Author:  Ontheoutside [ Thu Dec 22, 2005 3:13 am ]
Post subject:  The dumb bastards passed it. 6 more months of Fascism

Senate gives Patriot Act six more months

Thursday, December 22, 2005; Posted: 12:07 a.m. EST (05:07 GMT)

President Bush called the delay in renewing the Patriot Act "inexcusable."

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senators voted late Wednesday night to extend some expiring and controversial provisions of the Patriot Act for six months after leaders announced minutes earlier that they had reached a bipartisan agreement.

Approval in the Senate, many of whose members said they wanted an extension so the act could be retooled, leaves House approval as the final hurdle to keep the Patriot Act intact for now.

It was not clear when the House of Representatives would act. Though most members have left Washington for holiday break, the House has not yet formally adjourned, and the remaining members could convene to approve the bill if leaders in both parties agree.

Last week, the House voted 251-174 to renew the 16 provisions after striking a compromise that altered some of them. The provisions were set to expire at year's end if not renewed.

The House approved a bill that would have extended most of them permanently, but a filibuster after the bill reached the Senate stopped the measure from moving forward.

Republican leaders tried to break the filibuster Friday, but could muster only 52 of the necessary 60 votes. Four Republicans crossed party lines to oppose the extension.

That vote came on the same day that The New York Times reported that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens without warrants.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, cited the newspaper report as the reason he opposed permanently renewing the Patriot Act provisions, and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, called the newspaper's revelation "devastating" to the renewal effort.

Earlier Wednesday, Bush dubbed the filibuster "inexcusable" and urged Congress to renew expiring provisions of the act.

"The terrorist threat is not going to expire at the end of this year," Bush said. "The senators obstructing the Patriot Act need to understand that the expiration of this vital law will endanger America and will leave us in a weaker position in the fight against brutal killers."

Bush, who lobbied intensely for making key elements of the act permanent, originally said he would veto a three-month extension, arguing it would be inadequate.

But he appeared to prefer the idea of continuing it for six months, as a senior administration official said after Wednesday's agreement that the White House was "pleased that existing law remains in place." (Read what Bush has to say)

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, announced the agreement from the Senate floor after days of behind-the-scenes wrangling that ended the Senate impasse over the act.

Frist had been one of the most outspoken supporters of re-authorizing the provisions, arguing that a vote against immediate reauthorization "amounts to defeat and retreat at home."

In announcing Wednesday's agreement, however, Frist said that the agreement to extend the act was evidence "that there is broad bipartisan support that the Patriot Act never should expire."

"This is a win for America's safety and security, and I'm pleased the Senate was able to rise above the partisan politics being played by the minority to do the right thing," he said in a statement. "We should build on this effort to strengthen these anti-terrorism tools, safeguard our civil liberties and permanently extend the remaining provisions."

The Wednesday agreement marks a tidal shift among GOP leaders who have fervently resisted Democratic offers to temporarily extend the act so it could be revisited.

At least one Democrat applauded the new Republican sentiment.

In a statement calling the extension a "victory for the American people" because it strikes a balance between security and privacy concerns, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Congress now has time to "get the Patriot Act right."

"I'm glad the president and Republican leaders have agreed with Democrats that we needed an extension," he said. "There's a right way and a wrong way to mend the Patriot Act. The wrong way is to force senators to cast their votes on legislation written in the middle of the night. The right way is the agreement we have tonight."

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, has said the extension would enable common sense to re-enter the debate over the act. Before the Wednesday announcement, Leahy told reporters that 52 senators -- including eight Republicans -- had signed a letter to Frist calling for an extension.

Sen. John Sununu, R-New Hampshire, who co-sponsored the measure with Leahy, said there are "a number of different ways that we could work through this issue." He added that an extension would give senators time to work out their differences on the act.

"I do think there are changes that can be made, acceptable to both the House and Senate, that will enable us to get strong, bipartisan majorities in both chambers," he said.

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, created after the September 11, 2001 attacks, allows the government broad authority to investigate people suspected of involvement in terrorist activities.

Controversial measures include those allowing the FBI -- with a court order -- to obtain secret warrants for business, library, medical and other records, and to get a wiretap on every phone a suspect uses.

The stupid bastards passed it. Fascism Lives on in America

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