- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A proposal to temporarily extend the expiring USA Patriot Act for almost three months sailed through the Senate on Tuesday, a day after the House passed a similar measure that would continue the anti-terrorism law for several additional months.

Senators approved the measure by a vote of 86-12. Two Republicans and one independent joined nine Democrats in voting “no.”

The current version of the Patriot Act — which Congress passed in 2001 in response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks — will expire March 4. The Senate bill would expand the law until May 27, compared with the Dec. 8 deadline featured in the House version.

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.

But Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said the Senate’s shorter deadline would force Congress to act more quickly on a controversial law about which many Capitol Hill lawmakers have serious concerns.

“I do not begrudge our friends in the House time to do their work, and for the new Republican majority to seek additional time to consider the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act,” he said. “But it should not take a year to pass improvements to these provisions.”

Mr. Leahy added Congress shouldn’t extend the Patriot Act debate into the 2012 election year and “risk that some will play politics with our national security.”

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, who opposed the law and who voted against the extension, said Congress has a duty to hold more public debates on the matter.

“We should talk about how we do not have to give up who we are in order to fight terrorism,” he said. “It is not acceptable to willfully ignore the most basic provisions of our Constitution — in this case the Fourth and First amendments — in the name of ‘security.’”

The two chambers now must compromise on a deadline before sending a final version to the White House for President Obama’s signature.

The Patriot Act has stayed on the books for almost a decade despite concerns that it grants the federal government too much power and despite Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign pledge to curb what he called the worst abuses of the war on terror.

The initial law included sunset provisions that have been extended several times.

The extension bill renews three of the most-controversial parts of the law: the authority for court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones; the “library records” provision that gives the FBI court-approved access to “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation; and the “lone-wolf” provision that permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-Americans without claims of affiliation with a specific terrorist group.

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