House, Senate Reach Deal on Patriot Act
A House-Senate conference committee has hammered out a compromise on renewing the USA Patriot Act. Senator Russ Feingold has threatened a filibuster and several of his colleagues, including some Republicans, have indicated their displeasure with the deal.
House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement Thursday to extend the USA Patriot Act, the government’s premier anti-terrorism law, before it expires at the end of the month. But a Democratic senator threatened a filibuster to block the compromise. “I will do everything I can, including a filibuster, to stop this Patriot Act conference report, which does not include adequate safeguards to protect our constitutional freedoms,” said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who was the only senator to vote against the original version of the Patriot Act.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., announced Thursday that a House-Senate negotiating committee had reached an agreement that would extend for four years two of the Patriot Act’s most controversial provisions Ã¢€” authorizing roving wiretaps and permitting secret warrants for books, records and other items from businesses, hospitals and organizations such as libraries. Those provisions would expire in four years unless Congress acts on them again. “All factors considered it’s reasonably good, not perfect, but it’s acceptable,” Specter said of the agreement.
Also to be extended for four years are standards for monitoring “lone wolf” terrorists who may be operating independent of a foreign agent or power. While not part of the Patriot Act, officials considered that along with the Patriot Act provisions.
The Republican-controlled House had been pushing for those provisions to stay in effect as long as a decade, but negotiators decided to go with the GOP-controlled Senate’s suggestion. Most of the Patriot Act would become permanent under the reauthorization.
Feingold is not alone in his dislike of the compromise. “We believe this conference report will not be able to get through the Senate,” said a group of six senators, including Feingold, who have been working against the emerging deal. They said they will not support it in any form. The other senators are Republicans Larry Craig of Idaho, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Ken Salazar of Colorado.
My guess is this will ultimately pass, as anything packaged as an anti-terrorism package is difficult to vote against, let alone filiibuster. Ironically, most of the civil liberties qualms people have with the domestic aspects of post-9/11 counterterrorism are not actually part of the Act.