Friday, July 22, 2005
House Extends Patriot Act; N.M. Delegates Split on Bill
By Glen Johnson
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON The House voted Thursday to extend the USA Patriot Act, the nation's main anti-terrorism tool, just hours after televisions in the Capitol beamed images of a new attack in London.
As similar legislation worked its way through the Senate, House Republicans generally cast the law as a valuable asset in the war on terror. Most Democrats echoed that support but said they were concerned the law could allow citizens' civil liberties to be infringed.
After more than nine hours of debate, the House approved the measure 257-171. Forty-three Democrats joined 214 Republicans in voting to renew key provisions of the Patriot Act that were set to expire at the end of the year.
Rep. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat and vocal opponent of the Patriot Act, voted against the measure, which he has said infringes on Americans' civil liberties.
Reps. Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson, R-N.M., both voted for the reauthorization.
"The Patriot Act is an effort to give law enforcement the tools to prevent not just prosecute terrorist attacks," Wilson said. "Our nation would be less secure without the Patriot Act."
Pearce said the act requires judicial approval before most provisions can be used by law enforcement, which he said is an effective check on abuse of power.
"If you're not a terrorist, if you're not a drug runner, you really don't have anything at all to be concerned about with the Patriot Act," Pearce said.
The bulk of the back-and-forth centered on language making permanent 14 of 16 provisions that had four-year sunset provisions under the original law, which passed overwhelmingly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The bill also includes 10-year extensions to the two other provisions set to expire Dec. 31: one allowing roving wiretaps and another allowing searches of library and medical records.
Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the top Democrat on the committee, said that, while "I support the majority of the 166 provisions of the Patriot Act," the extensions could lessen accountability. "Ten years is not a sunset; 10 years is semi-permanent," he said.
President Bush hailed the vote.
"The Patriot Act is a key part of our efforts to combat terrorism and protect the American people, and the Congress needs to send me a bill soon that renews the act without weakening our ability to fight terror," Bush said in a statement released by the White House.
As the House debated the legislation, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved its own extension of the bill, though it included only four-year extensions for the roving wiretap and records search provisions.
A competing bill has also been approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which would give the FBI expanded powers to subpoena records without the approval of a judge or grand jury. That ensured further Senate talks on the terrorism-fighting measure. The House legislation will have to be reconciled with whatever emerges from the Senate.