- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2005

Republican House leaders yesterday rejected any short-term compromise on the USA Patriot Act extension they approved earlier this week, and the bill faces a near certain filibuster in the Senate today.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, called any short-term extension “irresponsible.”

“It’s a good, bipartisan bill that even further strengthens our national security,” he said of the bill that passed the House this week on a 251-174 vote with help from 44 Democrats. “It also includes new oversight measures so that security and liberty remain balanced.”

If Democrats filibuster the current bill and Republicans refuse to accept a short-term extension, the Patriot Act that is now on the books will expire in two weeks. Further complicating matters is that even if a compromise is reached in the Senate, it will have to be approved by the House.

Senate Democrats — joined by four conservative Republicans — say they will block passage of the bill in a vote this morning because it gives law enforcement too much unchecked power.

But Republicans are already laying the groundwork to punish Democrats in political polls for blocking legislation that, they say, has been crucial in the war against terror.

“The House of Representatives — recognizing the value of the Patriot Act — voted in a bipartisan way to extend the Patriot Act, and now there are senators who are filibustering the Patriot Act,” President Bush said yesterday at the White House. “That is a bad decision for the security of the United States.”

Privately, Republicans say they are astonished Democrats would consider filibustering the Patriot Act and leave themselves vulnerable to future political attacks similar to the ones that have dogged them for years about being weak on defense.

“It’s their exit strategy for 2006,” laughed one Senate Republican staffer.

Democrats say those charges won’t stick this time because they are joined by four Republicans: Sens. John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, Larry E. Craig of Idaho, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

Sen. Russell D. Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who has led the charge against provisions in the Patriot Act, dismissed any suggestion that Democrats will pay a political price for opposing the bill.

“For us to show weakness on civil liberties at this time would be another sign to people the Democratic Party is not standing up for what it believes in,” he said yesterday.

For the most part, Democrats appear fairly unified.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat and considered a hawk against terrorism, said yesterday she will support the filibuster. So did Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who has spent years drafting a provision included in the bill that targets methamphetamine use.

Given the current count, Senate Republicans have a tall order to pick up at least nine Democrats to overcome a filibuster.

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