The Senate yesterday overcame months of opposition and voted to renew the expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act.
The final version of the bill passed 89-10, with nine Democrats and one independent voting against it. It now goes to the House, which has passed even stricter versions before and is expected to pass the latest version easily next week.
“Today, we are making a statement that we cannot return to a pre-9/11 structure that could cost innocent Americans their lives,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican. “We will not return to the days of the pre-9/11 bureaucratic law that blocked information sharing between law enforcement and intelligence.”
Passage is a victory for President Bush, who campaigned in 2004 on renewing the law.
“This bill will allow our law-enforcement officials to continue to use the same tools against terrorists that are already used against drug dealers and other criminals, while safeguarding the civil liberties of the American people,” he said yesterday.
The Patriot Act was written in the weeks after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It gave investigators new methods for searches and wiretaps and broke down the wall between intelligence and law-enforcement officers that the administration said prevented them from comparing notes and possibly detecting the terrorist plot.
Sixteen of the provisions were so contentious that Congress insisted they be reauthorized in four years. Yesterday’s bill makes 14 of those provisions permanent and extends the other two for four more years.
Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat and the sole senator to vote against the original Patriot Act in 2001, said Congress had “largely wasted this opportunity” to fix the law.
He led a monthslong fight against the House-Senate compromise and delayed passage in the past week by insisting that the Senate jump routine procedural hurdles. He said he was trying to send a signal.
“This fight was about trying to restore the public’s trust in our government,” Mr. Feingold said. “The revelations about secret warrantless surveillance late last year only confirmed the suspicions of many in our country that the government is willing to trample the rule of law and constitutional guarantees in the fight against terrorism.”
Last year, Mr. Feingold led a successful bipartisan filibuster against the extensions, demanding additional limits on investigative tools.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chief House author of the bill, was harshly critical of Mr. Feingold, accusing him of a “single-minded obsession with blocking this anti-terror law.”
The Feingold filibuster forced Republican leaders to accept minor adjustments, and with those changes, the bill won the support of all Republicans and most Democrats, including key earlier opponents such as Massachusetts Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry, Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
After the December filibuster vote, Mr. Reid had boasted to supporters that Democrats had “killed” the Patriot Act. Yesterday, he said the filibuster strategy worked.
“We stood up to the White House to demand a more balanced approach to anti-terror tactics, and we have succeeded,” he said.