Bush administration pushes back on Patriot Act | VailDaily.com

Bush administration pushes back on Patriot Act

WASHINGTON – The fight over renewing the USA Patriot Act escalated Tuesday, with the Bush administration saying the nation’s security depends on congressional approval before year’s end and the Senate’s top Democrat joining an effort to block passage.Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., supports efforts to delay the vote, including a filibuster threatened by fellow Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, “so there will be more time to work on a good bipartisan bill,” said his spokesman, Jim Manley.Meanwhile, President Bush sent his top law enforcement officer to Capitol Hill to demand that Congress pass a House-Senate accord that would renew more than a dozen provisions of the act before they expire Dec. 31.Delaying or blocking passage as opponents urge, would “make it much more difficult to restructure the Department of Justice in a way that continues the protection of this country,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told reporters on Capitol Hill on the eve of a House vote.”The time to act is now,” he added.Senate Democrats joined by some libertarian-leaning Republicans want to extend the expiring provisions of the law by three months to give Congress time to add more protections against what they say are excessive police powers.”There’s no reason to compromise right to due process, the right to a judicial review, fair and reasonable standards of evidence in the pursuit of our security,” said Sen. John E. Sununu, R-N.H., one of several senators urging Congress to move the expiration date to March 31.The House is expected to pass the accord Wednesday, but its success in the Senate has been unclear for weeks.Reid’s announcement escalates a pitched end-of-session debate in which supporters and opponents of the House-Senate agreement are trading charges on who strikes the better balance between being tough on terrorists and protecting civil liberties.About a dozen Republicans and Democrats in the Senate complain the bill gives government too much power to investigate people’s private transactions – including bank, library, medical and computer records. They also say it doesn’t place enough limits on the FBI’s use of National Security Letters, which compel third parties to produce those documents during terrorism investigations.But for the White House and congressional Republicans, renewing the centerpiece of President Bush’s war on terror is a top priority on the eve of midterm elections.Bush devoted his Saturday radio address to the subject and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., added his voice Sunday.House Republicans took up the call Tuesday.”The consequence of the Patriot Act expiring on December 31st is going to be putting the American people at greater risk,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.”Reauthorization of the Patriot Act is absolutely essential to the homeland security of this country,” added Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. “We cannot go back to the pre-September 11th days.”The vast majority of the Patriot Act passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would remain in force even if the House-Senate agreement to renew the expiring provisions fails. The already permanent parts of the act gave the government new legal tools to investigate terror suspects in the same way it probes organized crime. It also created new laws, including one against harboring terrorists.Sensenbrenner and Specter said the agreement in some ways improves curbs on government power. It adds language, for example, explicitly saying that recipients of National Security Letters can challenge them in court.Vail, Colorado

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