President Bush yesterday signed into law an expansion of the government's power to eavesdrop on foreign terrorism suspects without the need for warrants.
The law, approved by the Senate and the House just before Congress adjourned for its summer break, was a priority for Mr. Bush, who signed the bill at Camp David.
"When our intelligence professionals have the legal tools to gather information about the intentions of our enemies, America is safer," he said.
The bill updates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. It gives the government leeway to intercept, without warrants, communications between foreigners that are routed through equipment in United States, provided that "foreign intelligence information" is at stake.
The new law will expire in six months unless Congress renews it. The administration wanted the changes to be permanent.
Meanwhile, Democrats began Congress' August break today touting their legislative victories — including three of six top campaign promises — since assuming the majority in January.
Lawmakers worked overtime last week to pass the wiretapping bill and to add new ethics rules to the list of Democrats' promises fulfilled, along with raising the federal minimum wage and implementing the remaining September 11 commission recommendations.
Democrats' remaining "Six for '06" campaign promises include expanding access to health care, making college more affordable and shoring up the retirement system.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that the Democrat-led Congress had put "the public interest ahead of the special interests" and changed the way business is done on Capitol Hill.
"Whether it's giving working families a long-overdue pay raise, implementing key 9/11 commission recommendations, providing health care coverage to millions of children and giving more students the opportunity to achieve a college education, Democrats have worked hard and will continue to fight for a new direction for our nation," the Nevada Democrat said.
Republicans dismissed most of the Democrats' claims of success, calling it a "post office Congress" that did little more than rename scores of post offices.
They said the Democrats' energy bills raise taxes, the ethics laws contain gaping loopholes for lawmakers to sneak "pork projects" into spending bills and that a bill that would add middle-class families to a federal health insurance program for poor children is the start of socialized medicine.
"Well, they've managed to achieve an astonishing thing, which is to have the lowest approval ratings anyone can find for Congress in history and have done it in a record short period of time of about seven months," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
A Gallup poll in late June showed just 14 percent of voters had much confidence in Congress. A recent CBS News/New York Times poll gave Congress a 26 percent approval rating.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said her party had kept its promises and forged a "new direction" for America.
"These are issues that relate directly to the well-being of the American people," she said.
But the chamber's Republicans accused Mrs. Pelosi of reneging on one of her most important promises: the pledge to "create the most open and honest government in history."
Republicans accused the Democrats of rigging a vote last week to give federal benefits to illegal aliens and then covering up the episode by revising the Congressional Record.
One omission from the list of accomplishments is the promise to end the war in Iraq, but Democrats signaled plans to resume a more contentious debate over the Iraq war after the August recess.
Shortly after midnight yesterday, the House did approve a $459.6 billion version of the defense budget that would add money for equipment for the National Guard and Reserve, provide for 12,000 additional soldiers and Marines, and increase spending for defense health care and military housing. But it does not include Mr. Bush's 2008 funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Democrats say they want to consider that money in separate legislation next month and will return to again press for a troop-withdrawal timetable and other antiwar measures.
c This article is based in part on wire service reports.