Woohoo! Finally, some sense has found its way to DC.
bq.. The Senate on Friday refused to reauthorize major portions of the USA Patriot Act after critics complained they infringed too much on Americans’ privacy and liberty, dealing a huge defeat to the Bush administration and Republican leaders.
In a crucial vote early Friday, the bill’s Senate supporters were not able to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster by Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and their allies. The final vote was 52-47.
President Bush, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Republicans congressional leaders had lobbied fiercely to make most of the expiring Patriot Act provisions permanent.
They also supported new safeguards and expiration dates to the act’s two most controversial parts: authorization for roving wiretaps, which allow investigators to monitor multiple devices to keep a target from evading detection by switching phones or computers; and secret warrants for books, records and other items from businesses, hospitals and organizations such as libraries.
Feingold, Craig and other critics said those efforts weren’t enough, and have called for the law to be extended in its present form so they can continue to try and add more civil liberties safeguards. But Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker
Dennis Hastert have said they won’t accept a short-term extension of the law.
If a compromise is not reached, the 16 Patriot Act provisions expire on Dec. 31, but the expirations have enormous exceptions. Investigators will still be able to use those powers to complete any investigation that began before the expiration date and to initiate new investigations of any alleged crime that began before Dec. 31, according to a provision in the original law. There are ongoing investigations of every known terrorist group, including al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad and the Zarqawi group in
Iraq, and all the Patriot Act tools could continue to be used in those investigations.
Five Republicans voted against the reauthorization: Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, John Sununu of New Hampshire, Craig and Frist. Two Democrats voted to extend the provisions: Sens. Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
Frist, R-Tenn., changed his vote at the last moment after seeing the critics would win. He decided to vote with the prevailing side so he could call for a new vote at any time. He immediately objected to an offer of a short term extension from Democrats, saying the House won’t approve it and the president won’t sign it.
“We have more to fear from terrorism than we do from this Patriot Act,” Frist warned.
If the Patriot Act provisions expire, Republicans say they will place the blame on Democrats in next year’s midterm elections. “In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without these vital tools for a single moment,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. “The time for Democrats to stop standing in the way has come.”
But the Patriot Act’s critics got a boost from a New York Times report saying Bush authorized the National Security Agency to monitor the international phone calls and international e-mails of hundreds — perhaps thousands — of people inside the United States. Previously, the NSA typically limited its domestic surveillance to foreign embassies and missions and obtained court orders for such investigations.
“I don’t want to hear again from the attorney general or anyone on this floor that this government has shown it can be trusted to use the power we give it with restraint and care,” said Feingold, the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001.
“It is time to have some checks and balances in this country,” shouted Sen. Patrick Leahy, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. “We are more American for doing that.”
p.. Exactly, Mr. Leahy. Now just do us a favor and remember saying this when/if the Democrats ever gain power again.