House approves Patriot Act renewal
Approval sends measure to Bush's desk before expiration
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress on Tuesday renewed controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act, the 2001 law passed weeks after the September 11 attacks to help the government investigate and capture possible terrorists.
The approval in the House of Representatives, by a vote of 280-138, sent the measure to President Bush for his signature.
The Senate last week voted 89-10 to approve the compromise package, which covers 16 provisions in the act that are set to expire on March 10.
"At last the Patriot Act will be reauthorized. And it's about time," Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, said after last week's vote.
"It will make America more secure, and that's the bottom line."
Three provisions of the renewed act would be reviewed in four years; the other provisions are permanent.
"Law enforcement officials and the intelligence community will not have to guess what the law will be. They will have the tools to fight terrorism," Kyl said.
A version of the reauthorization bill was passed by the House last year. But in December, Senate GOP leaders were unable to muster the 60 votes required under Senate rules to break a filibuster blocking the measure.
The filibuster was supported by most Democrats and a handful of Republicans, who insisted more changes in the bill were needed to protect civil liberties.
On Tuesday, Republicans voted in favor of the measures 214-13; among Democrats, 66 voted for the renewal, and 124 voted against it. One Independent voted against renewal.
Some critics of the final legislation contended that it gives too much power to the executive branch.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, voted against the act in 2001 and said he was "even more opposed" to the renewal.
"I rise in strong opposition to this legislation because it offers only a superficial reform that will have little if any impact on safeguarding our civil liberties," Kucinich said in House debate, according to his Web site.
"Congress has failed to do its job as a coequal branch of government," he said. "The administration's attack on our democracy has to be reigned in."
President Bush, along with top Justice Department and FBI officials, lobbied hard for renewal of the act, calling it a vital tool in the battle against terrorism.
"I applaud the Senate for voting to renew the Patriot Act and overcoming the partisan attempts to block its passage," Bush said last week from New Delhi, India.
"The terrorists have not lost the will or the ability to attack us. ... This bill will allow our law enforcement officials to continue to use the same tools against terrorists that are already used against drug dealers and other criminals, while safeguarding the civil liberties of the American people."
Bush's statements were echoed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
"The legislation provides additional tools for protecting mass transportation systems and seaports from attack; takes steps to combat the methamphetamine epidemic that is sweeping our country; and closes dangerous loopholes in our ability to prevent terrorist financing," he said.
The measure also would create a National Security Division at the Department of Justice, he said.
Among the more controversial provisions are the "roving wiretap" portion and the "sneak and peek" section. The first allows the government to get a wiretap on every phone a suspect uses, while the second allows federal investigators to get access to library, business and medical records without a court order.
Facing a filibuster led by Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, the Senate compromise approved last week somewhat limits the government's power to compel information from people targeted in terror investigations.
Senators agreed to exempt most libraries from secret demands for information and to limit a "gag rule" on other businesses that receive those demands. (Full story)
The provisions approved by Congress initially were to have expired at the end of 2005. Lawmakers extended them on a temporary basis twice, most recently through March 10.
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