- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Senate agreed last night to extend for six months key provisions of the USA Patriot Act, which were scheduled to expire, giving lawmakers the time to hammer out disputes over civil liberties concerns.

Although senators on both sides of the aisle said they were pleased with the deal, it was not clear whether House Republicans would go along with the proposal, which they repeatedly have dismissed.

“This has been a long, hard day,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said late last night after marathon negotiations. “But as night comes, it is a very good day for the Senate and a very good day for America.”

The deal, which was passed on a voice vote, averts a nasty political fight over 16 provisions in the Patriot Act that the Democrats and four Republicans said gave too much unchecked authority to law enforcement.

As of early last night, those provisions had appeared headed for defeat, but senators later reached the deal to extend the Patriot Act until June 30.

Senators from both parties said they are confident that the House and President Bush, who has criticized Senate Democrats several times in recent days over the issue, will go along with the compromise.

In a statement, Mr. Bush indicated he would sign the bill if the House passes it.

But Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said last night that he hadn’t discussed the matter with House Republican leaders, who have rejected such short-term extensions.

The compromise last night is a reversal for Mr. Frist, who repeatedly had opposed any short-term extension of the Patriot Act. Despite that, Mr. Frist declared a “celebratory mood” and said Republicans had proved they are “governing with meaningful solutions.”

When the extension appeared headed for defeat, Republicans boasted privately that Democrats were marching off a cliff by filibustering a popular measure aimed at helping law enforcement in the war on terrorism and said it would be a major issue in next year’s elections, comparable to Democrats’ opposition to the 2002 Homeland Security bill.

Mr. Schumer, who is overseeing his party’s Senate election campaigns, said he was relieved that Democrats wouldn’t be “bludgeoned politically” over blocking the Patriot Act.

Sen. Russell D. Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who led the effort to stop the Patriot Act until it was fixed, was pleased.

“Not a single one of us ever wanted the act to expire,” he said of his fellow filibusterers. “It was only the president and the White House and Attorney General [Alberto R.] Gonzales who wanted to play that game of chicken. And they lost the game of chicken.”

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