- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006


The Senate yesterday cleared the path for renewing the USA Patriot Act, swatting aside objections while adding protections for people targeted by government investigations.

The overwhelming votes virtually assured that Congress will renew President Bush’s counterterrorism law before it expires March 10. The House was expected to pass the legislation and send the bill to the president next week.

The law’s opponents, who insisted that the new protections were cosmetic, conceded defeat.

“The die has now been cast,” acknowledged the law’s chief opponent, Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, after the Senate voted 84-15 to end his filibuster. “Obviously at this point, final passage of the reauthorization bill is now assured.”

Mr. Feingold had succeeded for months in blocking one part of the legislative package, a House-Senate compromise that would renew 16 major provisions of the law, which are set to expire next week. Unable to break his objection by a Dec. 31 expiration date, Congress instead postponed the deadline twice while negotiations continued.

The White House and Republican congressional leaders broke the stalemate by crafting a second measure — in effect an amendment to the first — that would somewhat limit the government’s power to compel information from people targeted in terror probes.

That second measure passed overwhelmingly earlier in the day by a vote of 95-4. Voting “no” with Mr. Feingold were Sens. James M. Jeffords, Vermont independent; Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat; and the Senate’s constitutional authority, Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat.

The second measure added protections to the 2001 counterterrorism law in three areas that would:

• Give recipients of court-approved subpoenas for information in terrorist investigations the right to challenge a requirement that they refrain from telling anyone.

• Eliminate a requirement that a person provide the FBI with the name of a lawyer consulted about a National Security Letter, which is a demand for records issued by investigators.

• Clarify that most libraries are not subject to demands in those letters for information about terror suspects.

Mr. Feingold and his allies complained that the restrictions on government power would be virtually meaningless in practice. Though small, his group of four objectors represented progress for Mr. Feingold. In 2001, he cast the lone vote against the original Patriot Act, citing concerns regarding the new powers it granted the FBI.

Yesterday, the package’s authors cast the vote in pragmatic terms.

“Both bills represent a vast improvement over current law,” said the author of the new curbs, Sen. John E. Sununu, New Hampshire Republican.

Mr. Feingold, who has been mentioned as Democratic presidential candidate, said, “I am disappointed in this result. But I believe this fight has been worth making.”

Final Senate passage of the renewal was expected tomorrow.

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