Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said yesterday that he is opposed to the bipartisan proposal to extend contentious portions of the USA Patriot Act by three months until civil liberty concerns can be resolved.
“I’m against postponing it yet again,” the Tennessee Republican told reporters.
Instead, Mr. Frist wants the Senate to vote on the just-finished conference report that extends the provisions by four years and says he hopes the measure won’t be filibustered before the current version of the Patriot Act expires at the end of the year.
That legislation — hammered out in negotiations between members of the House and Senate — will be taken up in the House today and is expected to pass. But in the Senate, it could be filibustered by Democrats and Republicans who say the bill gives law enforcement too much authority.
Sen. John E. Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican who co-authored the alternative bill allowing for an additional three months to work out a compromise, said the “debate is fraught with emotion because we were all outraged at what happened on September 11.”
“Everyone in America and around the world shares a desire to address the threat of global terrorism, to give law enforcement appropriate powers to pursue those terrorists,” he said yesterday on the Senate floor. “But we want to make sure that in doing so we pass legislation that is in keeping with the principles on which our country was founded, principles of individual liberty and freedom.”
The alternative bill was co-authored by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat. It is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, Carl Levin of Michigan and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, with Republican Sens. Larry E. Craig of Idaho and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter yesterday to lawmakers opposed to the conference report.
“It permits law enforcement the necessary tools to protect the country against terrorist acts while at the same time safeguarding the civil liberties we all cherish,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union yesterday called on the Senate to reject the conference report, saying it was concerned about a “lack of substantive reforms.”
“The Senate must stand true to its role as the ‘saucer that cools the tea’ and reject pressures to hastily pass a faulty bill,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office.
The ACLU said the conference report failed to require individualized suspicion before people’s financial, medical or library records could be gathered by the FBI and that law-enforcement authorities could use the power to “engage in fishing expeditions into the private information of innocent Americans.”