- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2011

The House on Monday passed another extension of the almost decade-old USA Patriot Act — six days after an initial attempt to pass the anti-terrorism law failed in the Republican-controlled chamber to the surprise of GOP leaders.

The bill, which needed a simple majority, easily passed 275-144. The measure was supported by 210 Republicans and 65 Democrats. Twenty-seven Republicans joined 117 Democrats and voted against it.

The overall tally was similar in the 277-148 vote count taken Thursday, when the new Republican majority tried to fast-track it through the House. But the prior attempt — which needed a two-thirds majority — came up seven votes shy of the support required to pass it.

A similar bill sailed through the Democrat-controlled House on a 315-97 vote last year.

The extension would keep key provisions of the controversial Patriot Act on the books through Dec. 8. The provisions are set to expire at the end of the month.

Congress passed the USA Patriot Act in 2001 in response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and it has stayed on the books despite concerns that it grants the federal government too much power and despite President Obama’s 2008 campaign pledge to curb what he said were the worst abuses of the war on terror.

The extension bill calls for renewing the authority for court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones. Also addressed was Section 215, the so-called “library records” provision that gives the FBI court-approved access to “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation.

The bill also deals with the “lone-wolf” provision of a 2004 anti-terror law that permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. people not known to be affiliated with a specific terrorist organization.

The House had pushed for a nine-month extension to give lawmakers more time to come up with an approach that would give the measures permanent legal status.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it will receive considerable debate and several proposed changes from senators of both parties, including proposals to make some of the law’s provisions permanent.

House Democrats had demanded Republicans send the bill through the normal committee process so lawmakers could investigate whether the powers are still needed or need to be tweaked.

“I was encouraged to see some of my Republican colleagues cross the aisle last week to vote ‘no’ on the extension,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat. “It shows a healthy skepticism of unrestrained government power to spy on people in the United States.”

Republicans countered by saying Democrats had an entire year to figure out whether the provisions were being misused or should expire.

Supporters of the Patriot Act extensions also accused critics of propagating false allegations and exaggerations that the law is a government overreach.

“Numerous terrorist attempts in the last 10 years have been thwarted thanks to the intelligence-gathering tools provided in the Patriot Act and other national security laws,” said House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican.

“If Congress fails to extend the provisions set to expire on Feb. 28th, it will be on our shoulders if the intelligence needed to stop the next attack is not collected.”

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