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Senate ends filibuster over Patriot Act

| Wednesday, March 1, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Congress prepared Tuesday to reauthorize expiring provisions of the Patriot Act as the Senate voted to end a two-month filibuster by Democrats and dissident Republicans who have complained the legislation runs roughshod over civil liberties.

The Senate is expected to vote today to adopt a White House-approved compromise, which would reauthorize six controversial provisions of the anti-terrorism law originally set to expire at the end of 2005.

Since Jan. 1, both houses of Congress have acted twice to extend the current version of the bill to prevent those provisions from expiring. Without congressional action, the provisions would expire March 10.

The Senate is expected to vote nearly unanimously for the compromise, which both Republicans and Democrats say contains important improvements over the original Patriot Act.

The original legislation -- which gave law enforcement and intelligence agencies greater flexibility in tracking terrorist suspects -- was passed less than two months after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Civil-liberties advocates, though, were uneasy in giving the federal government considerable leeway to wiretap and search -- with only limited judicial review -- homes, offices and business records.

Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., who led the filibuster and brokered the compromise with the White House, said he didn't get all the civil-liberties protections he sought. But he said the compromise is a "substantial step forward."

"We sent an important message -- a message that we have a group willing to work in Congress to achieve these improvements and a message to the administration that when we're dealing with these issues, they need to be engaged and active and working toward consensus from the very beginning of the process," Sununu said yesterday prior to the vote.

Democrats who oppose the bill said it still removes too many checks and balances on law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

"Everybody in this body wants to reauthorize the Patriot Act. Many of the expiring provisions are entirely noncontroversial," said Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., who spearheaded opposition to Sununu's bill. "But we also need to fix the provisions that went too far, that do not contain the checks and balances necessary to protect our rights and freedoms."

Sixty votes were needed to end the filibuster, and the motion to do so was passed 69 to 30 yesterday. Fourteen largely centrist Democrats voted with all of the Senate's 55 Republicans, and 30 Democrats voted against ending the debate.

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