Thursday, July 21, 2005

House Votes to Reauthorize PATRIOT Act

The House voted 257-171 late Thursday to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act, and make permanent most of its provisions. After a lengthy and at times heated debate on amendments throughout the day, the measure ended up with a lopsided bipartisan majority. The House version of the reauthorization bill makes fourteen of the sixteen major provisions of the Act permanent, sunsetting two others (the library/bookstore records and roving wiretap provisions) ten years from now. This New York Times piece for Friday editions is a good rundown of the reauthorization bill.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the Senate will also have to pass a reauthorization bill if the Act's provisions are to continue after the end of this year. Several different versions of reauthorization legislation are in play in that chamber: one, approved unanimously Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, "would impose greater restrictions on the government's powers," according to the Times. It is unclear what version will come to the Senate floor for a vote, and even less unclear what type of bill could emerge from negotiations with the House.

The House leadership, acting in typical fashion, only allowed certain amendments to today's bill to reach the floor - those did not include a measure sponsored by Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont which would have prevented the government from peeking at people's library records. That amendment passed the House last month by a wide bipartisan margin when attached to an appropriations bill, but the leadership refused to allow it to the floor today, when it would have counted. Sanders called the exclusion "an outrageous abuse of power." Sadly, the way the House works these days, this was more like your everyday, garden-variety abuse of power. Republican Butch Otter decried the exclusion of so many amendments, saying he was "embarrassed" to by on the majority side of the aisle today.

I hope that the Senate conferees can talk some sense into the colleagues from the House when they discuss the different versions of the reauthorization bill. As Joe at The Yellow Line wrote earlier today, there are certain reforms that need to be a part of any reauthorization legislation ... and the Senate is doing a much better job than the House of making those reforms part of the discussion.

[Update: I neglected to mention above one of the amendments passed on Thursday: sponsored by Republican Jeff Flake (AZ), it mandates that the FBI director "personally approve demands for library and business records." It passed 402-26. -- 10:31 p.m.]


Post a Comment

<< Home