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Patriot Act fight moves to Senate

House of Representatives votes to renew Patriot Act for four years--but passage in Senate this week uncertain.

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a Republican-backed proposal to extend and modify the Patriot Act, clearing the way for a high-stakes battle in the Senate.

In a 251-174 vote that largely fell along party lines, House members approved legislation that would renew the portions of the Patriot Act that expire on Dec. 31 and require the FBI to file additional reports with Congress on how the law's surveillance powers have been used. A Senate vote is expected Friday.

"The Senate must act responsibly by approving this legislation and not allow these vital authorities to lapse," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican. "The public is put at much greater risk if Patriot Act opponents succeed in waving the white flag of surrender in the war on terror."

A bipartisan band of senators, however, has warned that the bill approved by the House does not include sufficient curbs on police power that would protect Americans' civil liberties. In a bid to buy extra negotiating time, they've suggested a three-month extension as an alternative.

Sixteen portions of the massive law, including ones relating to electronic and Internet surveillance, expire on Dec. 31. The majority will stay in effect unless repealed.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who stepped up the pressure on House members a day earlier, applauded the vote. "Our No. 1 priority is protecting the American people from another terrorist attack...I strongly urge the Senate to act now," he said in a statement.

In the House vote, only 18 Republicans opposed the Patriot Act, and 44 Democrats supported it.

Because of its procedures granting more autonomy to individual politicians, the legislation is expected to encounter more opposition in the Senate.

Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who was alone in voting against the original Patriot Act in 2001, has threatened to employ a filibuster.

Supporting a three-month extension is a fluid coalition of senators including 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.