Friday, February 10, 2006

Rethugs in Congress and W.H. deal on unPatriot Act

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Republicans reached a deal with the White House on Thursday that would likely clear the way for renewing the USA Patriot Act, a key element of President Bush's war on terror.

While some Democrats were quick to portray the deal as failing to address civil liberties concerns adequately, several Republicans and Democrats who had earlier balked at renewing the law gave their support now that some revisions had been accepted by the White House.

First enacted after the September 11 attacks, the Patriot Act expanded law enforcement authorities' ability to conduct wiretaps and secret searches and share information.

Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said the deal appeared to be "a step in the right direction."

The Republican accord would make permanent a number of key provisions of the act that are set to expire March 10.

"It is much less likely that a filibuster would be sustained under these circumstances," said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, who is in the Democratic leadership and intends to vote for the new compromise.

One change to the law accepted by Senate Republicans and the White House would allow individuals to challenge gag orders when they have been subpoenaed to produce sensitive information on library, medical, education or gun-related records.

Another change would clarify that traditional libraries would not be subjected to special subpoenas, which are not issued by judges, to gain records.

A group of Republican and Democratic senators combined in December to stage a Patriot Act renewal filibuster, a procedural move that blocked a vote on the bill.

Since then, Congress approved short-term extensions of the law.

"White House nay-saying and partisanship have obstructed this from becoming the better bill that it should be and that is deeply regrettable," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.    Continued ..

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