Friday, December 09, 2005
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congressional leaders reached a deal Thursday to extend key provisions of the Patriot Act, the government's premier anti-terrorism law. However, prominent Democratic senators said they opposed the compromise, and one threatened a veto.
Under the deal, three controvesial provisions that expire at the end of the year will be extended for four years, Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee announced.
The controversial U.S. anti-terrorism law passed in the months after the September 11, 2001, attacks and expanded government surveillance powers. The deal marks Congress' first revision of the law.
"There's no doubt about the need for tools for law enforcement to fight terrorism both domestically and internationally," said Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who led negotiations on the Senate side. "But equally clearly there's been a need for refinement of the protection of civil liberties and civil rights."
Specter said the compromise bill was "not perfect" but "acceptable" and preferable to the alternatives -- the existing Patriot Act or no law at all.
Immediate opposition to compromise
However, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said he opposed the compromise between the House and Senate leaders because it permitted the government to violate citizens' privacy rights without sufficient checks and balances.
Negotiations also excluded Democrats, Leahy said, which has turned renewal of the act into a partisan issue and undermined its credibility in the eyes of the American public.
"If this comes across as simply a partisan bill, do you think people in this country... will respect this legislation? They're not. They're not," Leahy said.
"This is simply seen as a fiat by one party or a small section of one party. It's not going to be respected," he said.
Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat and the only senator to vote against the original Patriot Act in 2001, called the agreement "a major disappointment" and promised to do "everything I can, including a filibuster, to stop this Patriot Act conference report."
"Merely sunsetting bad law is not adequate," Feingold said in a statement released after the agreement was announced. "We need to make substantive changes to the law, and without those changes I am confident there will be strong, bipartisan opposition here in the Senate."