The USA Patriot Act, the country's top anti-terror law, may have a new lease on life.
The Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday approved a six-month extension of the law to keep it from expiring on Dec. 31.
After repeatedly opposing any short term extension of the Patriot Act, President Bush now says he'll go for it. In a late night written statement following the senate action, Mr. Bush framed the extension as a rejection of what he described as moves to block the Patriot Act to score political points.
"We kept Senate Democrats from killing the Patriot Act," White House spokesman Scott McClellan added Thursday morning. "We're pleased that the existing Patriot Act is in place."
The Republican-controlled House is now expected to come back and consider the legislation keeping the 16 provisions of the law passed after the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington from expiring.
House and Senate negotiators had agreed to compromise legislation that would have made most of the anti-terrorism law permanent and added additional safeguards to the law. But Senate Democrats and a small group of Republican senators blocked the legislation in a filibuster — a procedural move to indefinitely delay a vote — arguing that the compromise needed more safeguards in it to protect Americans' civil liberties.
The six-month extension gives Congress more time to negotiate crucial provisions of the Patriot Act that deal with safeguarding civil liberties.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he had no choice but to accept a six-month extension in the face of a successful filibuster and the Patriot Act's Dec. 31 expiration date. "I'm not going to let the Patriot Act die," Frist said.
"The work of Congress on the Patriot Act is not finished," President Bush said in the statement. "The act will expire next summer, but the terrorist threat to America will not expire on that schedule. I look forward to continuing to work with Congress to reauthorize the Patriot Act."
Most of the Patriot Act — which expanded the government's surveillance and prosecutorial powers against suspected terrorists, their associates and financiers — was made permanent when Congress overwhelmingly passed it after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, CBS reports.
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