Thursday, December 22, 2005Truthout:
New Life for Patriot Act Is No Bush Win
By Richard B. Schmitt and Mary Curtius
The Los Angeles Times
Thursday 22 December 2005
The Senate's six-month extension effectively kills a deal to make key provisions permanent.
Washington - In a major setback for the White House on a top domestic priority, the Senate on Wednesday passed a six-month extension of the Patriot Act, due to expire Dec. 31, even though President Bush had demanded that most of the law become permanent.
The move effectively killed a House-Senate compromise that would have made permanent 14 of the 16 provisions of the statute, which gives law enforcement officials sweeping power to track and prosecute suspected terrorists. The House adopted the compromise last week.
But senators from both parties balked, saying the compromise legislation failed to include enough safeguards of civil liberties and privacy. They began filibustering the measure Friday and sustained the filibuster through the end of a tumultuous session Wednesday night, withstanding blistering public attacks by Bush, Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who said that allowing the provisions to expire would put the American people at risk.
Ultimately, the Senate agreed to the six-month extension without opposition.
"We had a pretty broad coalition and it held together," said Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire, one of four Republicans who joined 43 Democrats on Friday to launch the filibuster.
The Senate Democratic minority seemed delighted by the rare and hard-fought victory over a president who since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has built his presidency around the pursuit of terrorists.
"The White House - couldn't break the filibuster, couldn't break the bipartisan group," said Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.), who led the fight against the House-Senate compromise legislation.
"It was only the president, the White House and Atty. Gen. Gonzales who wanted to play that game of chicken - and they lost that game," Feingold said. The administration had made it clear, he added, that "it was their way or the highway, but they did not prevail."
Frist, who said Tuesday that he would not agree to a temporary extension, said Wednesday night that he had changed his mind when faced by what he described as a decision by Democrats "to kill the Patriot Act." He said he decided that he wasn't "going to let the Patriot Act die."
In a written statement late Wednesday, Bush said that he appreciated the Senate's work "to keep the existing Patriot Act in law" but that "the work of Congress on the Patriot Act is not finished."
"The act will expire next summer, but the terrorist threat to America will not expire on that schedule," Bush said.
If the House convenes today and agrees to the extension, as expected, and if Bush signs it, as expected, House and Senate negotiators will have six months to come up with a proposal.
"This is the way legislation used to be done when I first came here," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, who worked with the committee's chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), to negotiate the temporary extension. "There were many good things in this conference report, but not enough. Now we have six months to get it right."
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), another Judiciary Committee member, said the turning point came Wednesday morning when a bipartisan majority of senators - 52 - signed a letter urging Frist to support a three-month extension of the expiring measures. The letter touched off intense negotiations and high-level lobbying as the White House sought to persuade Republican senators to support the compromise legislation.
The administration found stiff resistance among the senators, some of whom resented the haste with which the Patriot Act was pushed through Congress by the Republican leadership within weeks of the Sept. 11 attacks.