WASHINGTON – The House voted Thursday to extend the USA Patriot Act, the nation’s main anti-terrorism tool.
As similar legislation worked its way through the Senate, House Republicans generally cast the law as a valuable asset in the war on terrorism. 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 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 also includes 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.
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 legislation, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved its own extension of the bill, 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.