WASHINGTON -- The House voted Thursday to extend the USA Patriot Act, the nation's
main anti-terrorism tool, just hours after televisions in the Capitol beamed images
of a new attack in London.
As similar legislation worked its way through the Senate, House Republicans
generally cast the law as a valuable asset in the war on terror. Most Democrats
echoed that support but said they were concerned the law could allow citizens'
civil liberties to be infringed.
After more than nine hours of debate, the House approved the measure 257-171.
Forty-three Democrats joined 214 Republicans in voting to renew key provisions
of the Patriot Act that were set to expire at the end of the year.
'The threat has not receded'
The bulk of the back-and-forth centered on language making permanent 14 of
16 provisions that had four-year sunset provisions under the original law, which
Congress passed overwhelmingly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The bill has 10-year extensions to the two other provisions set to expire on
Dec. 31, one allowing roving wiretaps and another allowing searches of library
and medical records.
''While the Patriot Act and other anti-terrorism initiatives have helped avert
additional attacks on our soil, the threat has not receded,'' said Rep. James
Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the top Democrat on the panel, said he backed
the majority of Patriot Act provisions but feared the extensions could lessen
accountability. ''Ten years is not a sunset; 10 years is semi-permanent,'' he
President Bush hailed the vote.
''The Patriot Act is a key part of our efforts to combat terrorism and protect
the American people, and the Congress needs to send me a bill soon that renews
the act without weakening our ability to fight terror,'' Bush said in a statement
released by the White House.
As the House debated the bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved its
own extension of the act, though it included only four-year extensions for the
roving wiretap and records search provisions.
A competing bill also has been approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee,
which would give the FBI expanded powers to subpoena records without the approval
of a judge or grand jury. That ensured further Senate talks on the terrorism-fighting
measure. The House legislation will also have to be reconciled with whatever
emerges from the Senate.