Senate rebuffs Bush on Patriot Act

Bipartisan vote defies the president and makes pro-civil liberties reforms more likely when Senate returns in January.

Handing a stiff rebuke to President Bush, the U.S. Senate on Friday refused to end the filibuster that is blocking a four-year extension of the Patriot Act.

In a 52-to-47 vote, the Senate failed to reach the 60-person majority required to cut off a filibuster and force a vote on the Republican-backed extension of the portions of the controversial law that are set to expire on Dec. 31.

The vote makes it more likely that lawmakers will enact an alternate proposal , backed by critics of the Patriot Act, that would extend those 16 sections for only three months. That would yield additional time for negotiations when senators return from their holiday vacation in January.

"The leaders of this Congress need to figure out a way to change this (legislation) to address the important civil liberties issues that I and other Senators from both sides of the aisle have discussed over the past three days," said Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, who was the lone dissenter when the Senate approved the original Patriot Act a month after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Earlier, Bush and his Republican allies claimed that national security would at stake unless lawmakers renewed the Patriot Act without changes. These changes would increase oversight of, and include some limitations on, how the law's surveillance powers can be used.

An article in The New York Times on Friday gave critics of the law additional ammunition. It revealed that in 2002, Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without seeking court-approved warrants.

Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had fiercely lobbied for a four-year extension of the Patriot Act without the reforms that critics had demanded. Among the 16 sections scheduled to expire are ones that expanded secret methods the FBI can use to obtain business records; authorized more information-sharing between Internet service providers and police; and listed computer hacking as an offense permitting increased eavesdropping.

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives approved the four-year extension by a 251-to-174 vote.

A fluid coalition of senators had pressed for reforms. Those included Patrick Leahy of Vermont and fellow Democrats Richard Durbin of Illinois, Carl Levin of Michigan, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, John Rockefeller of West Virginia, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Kenneth Salazar of Colorado. The Republicans include John Sununu of New Hampshire, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, and Larry Craig of Idaho.

 

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