WASHINGTON — Congress yesterday approved a one-month extension of the Patriot
Act and sent it to President Bush in a pre-Christmas scramble to prevent many of
its anti-terrorism provisions from expiring Dec. 31.
The Senate, with only Sen. John Warner, R-Va., present, approved the Feb. 3
expiration date four hours after the House, with a nearly empty chamber, bowed
to Rep. James Sensenbrenner's refusal to agree to a six-month extension.
Congress can pass legislation with only a few lawmakers present as long as no
member of the House or Senate objects. The Senate session lasted four
Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary
Committee, said the shorter extension would force swifter Senate action and had
the support of the White House and Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. The Senate
reconvenes Jan. 18 and the House Jan. 26.
"A six-month extension, in my opinion, would have simply allowed the Senate
to duck the issue until the last week in June," Sensenbrenner told
Most Senate Democrats and a few libertarian-leaning Republicans united
against a House-Senate compromise that would have renewed several expiring
provisions permanently while extending others for four years.
Democrats were pleased with a short-term extension, whether for six months or
just a few weeks.
"The amount of time is less important than the good-faith effort that will be
needed in improving the Patriot Act to strike the right balance in respecting
Americans' liberty and privacy, while protecting their security," said Sen.
Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
"We're happy to agree to a shorter-term extension of the Patriot Act," said
Rebecca Kirszner, an aide to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "The
important thing is to strike the right balance between liberty and
Critics of the Patriot Act say some of its provisions allow too much
potential government intrusion into private communications, library records and