As part of its proposed antiterrorism package, the Senate on Tuesday night agreed to loosen a 117-year-old law that limits the military’s involvement in domestic law enforcement.
Under the amendment to the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, the military would be allowed in emergencies to help in terrorism cases involving chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.
The approval of the amendment was a major victory for President Clinton, who had requested the change as part of his counterterrorism package but had been rebuffed by Republican senators, who excluded it from theirs.
The majority leader, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, said he would call for a vote on the final amendment this morning and would follow immediately with a vote on the full counterterrorism package, known as the Comprehensive Terrorism Prevention Act of 1995.
The Republicans’ acceptance of the changes to the Posse Comitatus Act came at the end of 24 hours of furious political horse-trading that began on Monday night when Clinton gave ground on the Republicans’ push to include legislation that would limit death row appeals.
In exchange for the Republicans’ support, the Democrats, who hold 46 seats in the Senate, agreed to withdraw four gun-related amendments that had bogged down debate for most of the day and set off a round of partisan bickering.
The Senate began its business on Tuesday morning by accepting by a voice vote a gun-related amendment. The measure, by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., would increase the statute of limitations under the National Firearms Act to five years from three for crimes like the manufacture of fully automatic machine guns, the possession of sawed-off shotguns and the manufacture of homemade silencers or bombs.
The bill has dozens of provisions. They include increasing the maximum rewards for information about international terrorism to $10 million and adding 1,000 federal officials to fight terrorism. The bill also includes a proposal to create a domestic counterterrorism agency headed by the FBI.
Domestically, the bill would increase penalties for federal crimes linked to terrorism and make them punishable under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The FBI would have greater access to records like credit and financial reports, telephone bills and hotel records of suspected terrorists.