Contact Me By Email

Atlanta, GA Weather from Weather Underground

Thursday, December 15, 2005

House Renews Antiterror Law, but Opposition Builds in Senate - New York Times

House Renews Antiterror Law, but Opposition Builds in Senate - New York TimesDecember 15, 2005
House Renews Antiterror Law, but Opposition Builds in Senate

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 - The House voted Wednesday to renew the broad antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act, but opposition was growing in the Senate, where members of a bipartisan coalition predicted they would block the measure by filibuster when it comes up for consideration on Friday.

Faced with the filibuster threat, the White House sent Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to the Republicans' weekly policy luncheon to assuage concerns that the law does not strike the correct balance between safeguarding civil liberties and protecting national security.

Three Republican senators were already on record as opposing the reauthorization in its current form, and by the time Mr. Gonzales arrived in the Capitol, a fourth - Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska - had joined them, saying he had "many concerns" about the bill.

Mr. Hagel signed a letter Wednesday in which opponents say they are concerned about "government fishing expeditions targeting innocent Americans" and demand further restrictions on provisions allowing government searches and access to private and personal information including medical and library records.

The White House has made renewing the antiterrorism law a priority, but time is running short.

The current law, which greatly expanded the government's investigative and surveillance powers in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, is set to expire, and Congress is hoping to adjourn for the year this weekend at the latest.

"The Patriot Act is scheduled to expire at the end of the month, but the terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule," President Bush said Wednesday, in a statement urging the Senate to follow the House's lead. "In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment."

The House passed the bill by a vote of 251 to 174. Forty-four Democrats voted for the bill, and 18 Republicans voted against it. Those Republicans included some of the most conservative members of the House - a sign, critics said, that members of both parties are uneasy about the bill. The critics are calling for a three-month extension of the current law to give both sides time to make changes.

"I think it sends a message that there are people across the political spectrum that think this bill doesn't do what it should, that it doesn't do enough to protect civil liberties," said Senator John E. Sununu, Republican of New Hampshire, referring to the House vote.

Mr. Sununu said he did not believe that the Republican leadership could muster the 60 votes required to break a filibuster. The senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, agreed.

"I don't think they have the votes," Mr. Leahy said in an interview on Wednesday, adding: "The recommendation I made to both Republicans and Democrats is just fix the bill. We can do that this week if the White House would cooperate."

But Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, rejected a short-term extension and called for his colleagues to approve the reauthorization, a conference report that was the product of weeks of House-Senate negotiations.

"Today's overwhelming bipartisan vote in the House for the Patriot Act - with the support of 44 Democrats, including members of the House Democratic leadership - shows that we can all unite to make America safer from terrorism while safeguarding our civil rights and civil liberties," Mr. Frist said. "Senate Democrats should follow the lead of their House counterparts."

In setting the vote for Friday, Mr. Frist may be betting that although critics dislike the extension, they dislike the idea of letting the law expire even more.

The vote is also laden with political implications for Democrats, who suffered at the polls in 2002 after defeating legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security. Republican backers of the bill are taking pains to remind Democrats of that, as did Ken Mehlman, the head of the Republican National Committee.

"Voters will react the same way in 2006 if Democrats block the reauthorization of the Patriot Act to appease the hard left," Mr. Mehlman said Wednesday in a statement.

Ever since its adoption in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Patriot Act has drawn vigorous complaints from advocates for civil liberties, who contend that provisions like those allowing the government to obtain a person's library and medical records infringe on basic constitutional rights.

The measure passed by the House makes permanent 14 of 16 provisions that were set to expire, while putting in place additional judicial oversight and safeguards against abuse. The House Republican leadership praised the vote, saying the bill is essential to national security.

"We need to stay tough on terrorism," Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois said in a statement. "This bill ensures that our law enforcement keep the tools they already have in place to root out and prosecute terrorists."

But critics, including the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, argue that the safeguards do not go nearly far enough. "The criticism we had about this legislation previously was because of 9/11, we rushed to judgment on a number of provisions in that bill," Mr. Reid told reporters Wednesday. "We certainly shouldn't do that this time."

Democratic aides say a majority of their caucus supports a filibuster. In addition to Mr. Hagel and Mr. Sununu, two other Republicans, Senators Larry Craig of Idaho and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have said they will vote to block the measure. The four signed on to a letter circulated to senators Wednesday by Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin.

"We still have the opportunity to pass a good reauthorization bill this year," the letter says. "But to do that, we must stop this conference report."

No comments:

Post a Comment