The Senate has passed a 90-day extension of Patriot Act with 86 ayes and 12 nays to allow more time to work out a longer term solution for three expiring provisions in the anti-terrorism bill. It now goes to the House. If Congress does not act the provisions would expire at the end of February.
"Extend it to May. It will give us time then. It's very important that it not expire," said Senator Dianne Feinstein Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "It gives us more time because there are three different bills and a lot of stuff going on and you can't sort it out. So this will give some time."
"We're talking about a ninety day extension to give us time to bring it up for full debate on the floor. Obviously we don't have time to do that before the end of the week," said Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-GA, top ranking republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. "As of right now I have no qualms with doing that."
"I wouldn't have any problem with that," Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said. "It takes a little bit of pressure off."
The Senate is split over how to proceed on the Patriot Act extension for the long term - a three way split. The disagreement arises over competing issues on how long to extend the anti-terrorism surveillance tools which expire at the end of February and how much oversight to include.
The expiring provisions grant authority for roving wiretaps on terror suspects that move from phone to phone or other electronic devices. Another provision allows for the examination of library records, bookstore records and other business records of terror suspects. The third provision permits surveillance of "lone wolf" suspects, those who act alone who may not be tied or involved with recognized terror organizations.
Leahy introduced legislation to extend the three expiring provisions through 2013; it also adds additional safeguards to the act which would provide for increased oversight of U.S. Intelligence gathering tools.
Feinstein introduced legislation to extend the three expiring provisions through 2013, but does not have any of the oversight language contained in Leahy's bill.
Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Republican Charles Grassley, R-IA, has introduced a bill along with Republican Senate Minority Leader McConnell, R-KY, that permanently extends the expiring provisions.
Senator Rand Paul, R-KY, expressed his opposition to the Patriot Act reauthorization in a letter sent to Senators and called upon his Senate colleagues to "seriously consider whether the time has come to re-evaluate many - if not all - provisions of the Patriot Act."
The current provisions in the Patriot Act expire on February 28. Congress is scheduled to leave town at the end of the week for Presidents' Day recess.
The House would have to approve any short term extension the Senate works out. On Monday night the House approved an extension of the expiring provisions through December 2011.