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3/3: Senate passes a revised Patriot Act
Released 05 March 2006  By Laurie Kellman - Associated Press

Senate passes a revised Patriot Act
89-to-10 vote provides Bush with key victory
By Laurie Kellman, Associated Press
March 3, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The Senate yesterday gave its blessing to the renewal of the USA Patriot Act after adding privacy protections designed to strike a better balance between civil liberties and the government's power to root out terrorists.

The 89-to-10 vote marked a bright spot in President Bush's troubled second term. Renewing the act, Bush and congressional Republicans said, was key to preventing more terror attacks in the United States.

Bush applauded the Senate for overcoming ''partisan attempts to block its passage." The House was expected to pass the two-bill package next week and send it to the president, who would sign it before 16 provisions expire March 10.

''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 said in a statement from India.

Critics held their ground. A December filibuster led by Senator Russell Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, and joined by several Republicans, forced the Bush administration to agree to modest curbs on the government's power to probe library, bank, and other records.

Feingold insisted those new protections are cosmetic.

''Americans want to defeat terrorism, and they want the basic character of this country to survive and prosper," he said. ''They want both security and liberty, and unless we give them both -- and we can if we try -- we have failed."

Some lawmakers who voted for the package acknowledged deep reservations about the power it would grant to any president.

''Our support for the Patriot Act does not mean a blank check for the president," said the minority leader, Harry M. Reid of Nevada, who voted to pass the bill package. ''What we tried to do on a bipartisan basis is have a better bill. It has been improved."

Even as he urged passage of the measure, the bill's chief sponsor in the Senate, Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, promised to hold hearings on how to fix it.

Specter also said he would introduce a new bill.

Passage of the law represents a significant victory for Bush and his Republican allies. For months, their tough-on-terror image has been tarnished by the disclosure that the president authorized a secret domestic wiretapping program. The issue gave Democrats ammunition for their allegation that the Bush administration had run amok in its zeal to root out terrorists.

With the help of some Republicans, Democrats blocked a vote on whether to renew the law before 16 provisions expired on Dec. 31.

GOP leaders were unable to break the gridlock, so Congress opted instead to extend the deadline twice while negotiations continued.

In the end, the White House and the Republicans broke the stalemate by crafting a second measure that would curb some powers of law enforcement officials seeking information. Both will be sent as a package to Bush.

This second bill -- in effect an amendment to the measure renewing the 16 provisions -- would add new protections to the 2001 antiterror law in three areas. It would:

- Give recipients of court-approved subpoenas for information in terrorist investigations the right to challenge a requirement that they refrain from telling anyone.

- Eliminate a requirement that an individual provide the FBI with the name of a lawyer consulted about a National Security Letter, which is a demand for records issued by investigators.

- Clarify that most libraries are not subject to demands in those letters for information about suspected terrorists.

Passed in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the original Patriot Act expanded the government's surveillance and prosecutorial powers against suspected terrorists, their associates, and financiers.

The renewal package would make 14 of 16 temporary provisions permanent and set four-year expirations on the others.

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