Bipartisan group deals blow to extension of Patriot Act
Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., joined a bipartisan group of critics Friday to reject a proposed agreement to extend the...
WASHINGTON — Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., joined a bipartisan group of critics Friday to reject a proposed agreement to extend the USA Patriot Act, dashing White House hopes that Congress would vote on the sweeping anti-terrorism law before adjourning for Thanksgiving.
At a news conference called by senators who threatened to filibuster the House-backed legislation unless it provides greater privacy protections, Specter said he disagreed with House negotiators over the expiration dates for two of the law's 16 provisions.
"My view is that the Patriot Act needs further analysis and some revision," Specter said. The statute expires Dec. 31, and pressure is building on Congress to act.
Specter said he wants four-year expiration dates for a provision that gives the FBI broad leeway to seize personal and business information — the "library provision" — and a second provision that allows the FBI to wiretap any phone a suspect uses. The current version has seven-year expiration dates.
The Patriot Act, enacted weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is the centerpiece of the administration's domestic war on terrorism. The law greatly expanded the powers of the FBI and the Justice Department to combat terrorism, in part by tearing down the legal wall between law-enforcement authorities and intelligence investigators.
It met with resistance from those who feared government abuse of its broad powers to track and investigate suspected terrorists. Lawmakers from both parties fought for greater congressional oversight and for expiration dates on some controversial provisions.
It wasn't all bad news Friday for Republicans on Capitol Hill. Earlier, they won votes on tax and spending reductions.
But their success could be fleeting. The tax and spending cuts are nowhere near ready to go to President Bush for his signature.
All in all, the pre-Thanksgiving season was one of the most thankless periods for congressional Republicans since Bush became president. Democrats in the House displayed rare unity, voting unanimously against the budget reductions. That gave moderate Republicans the balance of power, clout they haven't had these five years.
In an early morning vote, House Republican leaders won over enough moderates to pass nearly $50 billion in spending cuts over five years by 217-215.
Shortly after midnight, the Senate passed nearly $60 billion in tax reductions over five years by 64-33, but only after appeasing moderates by agreeing not to extend a tax break on capital gains and dividends.
Friday's votes aren't the end of the road. The House spending bill needs to be reconciled with a smaller Senate package cutting $35 billion over five years. On Friday, the House leadership gave up trying to secure votes for its own tax-cut plan, delaying negotiations with the Senate at least until next month.
That means Republican lawmakers will take a two-week Thanksgiving break back home, where many will face organized opposition to tax and spending reductions. That could make it even more difficult for Republican leaders to prevail when they return.
Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a leading moderate from New York, said, "This is the moderates' moment. ... It's evident that our influence has increased."
He and other moderates won a number of concessions on the budget-reduction bill, including the elimination of a provision that would permit drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They also won extra money for home-heating assistance and adjustments in spending cuts in food stamps.
The Senate bill, while smaller, contains a provision to drill in Alaska, jeopardizing final passage.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.