Extension of Patriot Act Faces Threat of Filibuster (there is hope)
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Extension of Patriot Act Faces Threat of Filibuster
By Eric Lichtblau
The New York Times
Friday 18 November 2005 Washington - A tentative deal to extend the government's antiterrorism powers under the law known as the USA Patriot Act appeared in some jeopardy Thursday, as Senate Democrats threatened to mount a filibuster in an effort to block the legislation.
"This is worth the fight," Senator Russell D. Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who serves on the Judiciary Committee, said in an interview.
"I've cleared my schedule right up to Thanksgiving," Mr. Feingold said, adding that he was making plans to read aloud from the Bill of Rights as part of a filibuster if necessary.
The political maneuvering came even before negotiators for the House and Senate had agreed on a final deal to extend the government's counterterrorism powers under the act.
With a tentative deal in place on Wednesday, Congressional negotiators had been expected to reach a final, printed agreement by early Thursday for the full House and Senate to consider. But despite minute-by-minute updates about a possible conclusion, the day passed on with no final agreement, causing no shortage of nervousness among Bush administration officials and Republican supporters of the tentative deal.
By Thursday evening, officials said negotiators had reached what amounted to an impasse for the day, as those from the Senate pushed for further civil rights safeguards that were seen as unacceptable to House leaders. Talks are expected to pick up again on Friday, officials said.
The tentative deal reached by negotiators would make permanent 14 of the 16 provisions of the law that are set to expire at the end of the year. The remaining two provisions - related to government demands for records from businesses and libraries and its use of roving wiretaps - would have to be reconsidered in seven years, as would a separate provision on taking aim at people suspected of being "lone wolf" terrorists.
But in the eleventh-hour negotiations to complete the deal, Congressional leaders discussed changing some crucial elements of the agreement in response to concerns from lawmakers, officials said. One proposal would have lowered the "sunset" on the three investigative provisions from seven years to something closer to the four years approved by the Senate in its version of the bill earlier this year.
In a letter Thursday, a bipartisan group of six senators said the tentative deal had caused them "deep concern" because it did not go far enough in "making reasonable changes to the original law to protect innocent people from unnecessary and intrusive government surveillance."
Reflecting the political breadth of concerns about the law, the letter was signed by three Republicans - Senators Larry E. Craig, John E. Sununu and Lisa Murkowksi - and three Democrats - Senators Richard J. Durbin and Ken Salazar and Mr. Feingold.
The group called for tighter restrictions on the government's ability to demand records and its use of so-called "sneak and peak" warrants to conduct secret searches without immediately informing the target, among other measures.
"We have worked too long and too hard to allow this conference report to eliminate the modest protections for civil liberties that were agreed to unanimously in the Senate," Ms. Murkowski, of Alaska, said in a separate statement.
"There is still time for the conference committee to step back and agree to the Senate's bipartisan approach. If the conference committee doesn't do that, we will fight to stop this bill from becoming law."
Republican leaders said they remained confident that a deal would be worked out that would accommodate the newly raised concerns from members of both parties. But the late maneuvering could thwart the leaders' hopes to have a deal in place before Congress breaks for Thanksgiving next week.
The Bush administration, which saw the negotiators' tentative agreement as a strong endorsement of its demand for tough antiterror tools, has made the reauthorization of the act one of its top legislative priorities, and officials have been pushing for a quick resolution to avoid hitting a deadline at the end of December, when several major surveillance and investigative powers in the law would expire.
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