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In Victory for Bush, Senate Vote Favors Extension of Patriot Act

By David Stout


The Senate voted overwhelmingly today to extend the Patriot Act, clearing the way for the House to follow suit and send the anti-terrorism bill to President Bush before it expires on March 10.

The 89-to-10 vote was somewhat anticlimactic, since senators who back the bill had defeated a series of parliamentary delaying moves on Wednesday, but it was still good news for President Bush, who regards the measure as the legislative keystone of his anti-terrorism policies. ̰ Indeed, President Bush issued a statement half a world away, in New Delhi, before the Senate voted but when it was obvious that the bill’s detractors had run out of tactics.

“I applaud the Senate for voting to renew the Patriot Act and overcoming the partisan attempts to block its passage,” the president said. “The terrorists have not lost the will or the ability to attack us. The Patriot Act is vital to the war on terror and defending our citizens against a ruthless enemy.

“This bill will allow our law enforcement officials to continue to use the same tools against terrorists that are already used against drug dealers and other criminals, while safeguarding the civil liberties of the American people.”

But reaction to today’s vote signaled that the Patriot Act will continue to be debated in the United States long after Congress has approved it. The senators opposing the bill, all Democrats except for the independent James Jeffords of Vermont, argued that the civil rights protections written into the measure were too modest.

“Americans want to defeat terrorism and they want the basic character of this country to survive and prosper,” said Senator Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, who was the only senator to vote against the original bill when it was passed shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “They want both security and liberty, and unless we give them both — and we can if we try — we have failed.”

The bill, which extends 16 provisions of the USA Patriot Act (14 permanently and two through 2009), now goes to the House, which will act on it next week. That chamber has already approved the general measure, but it must vote again to accommodate the late changes put in by the Senate.

Since a majority of House members support the Patriot Act — and since the House procedures do not include a filibuster, under which a minority of lawmakers can stall legislation — passage in the House is certain, barring an extraordinary shift in sentiment in the days just ahead.