House Cuts Patriot Act Extension

Philadelphia Phillies' Chase Utley hits a solo hole run in the sixth inning of Game 1 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Yankees Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009, in New York. Yankees catcher is Jorge Posada and umpire is Gerry Davis. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay
The House passed a one-month extension of the Patriot Act on Thursday and sent it to the Senate for final action as Congress scrambled to prevent expiration of anti-terror law enforcement provisions on Dec. 31.

Approval came on a voice vote in a nearly empty chamber, after Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, refused to agree to a six-month extension the Senate cleared several hours earlier.

House passage marked the latest step in a stalemate that first pitted Republicans against Democrats in the Senate, then turned into an intramural GOP dispute.

It was not clear when the Senate would act on the one-month bill, but approval was possible by evening.

Without action by Congress, several provisions enacted in the days following the 2001 terror attacks are due to expire. President Bush has repeatedly called on Congress not to let that happen.

The Senate vote Wednesday night marked a turnabout for GOP leaders, who had long insisted they would accept nothing less than a permanent renewal of the law. The House approved the measure earlier this month, but a Democratic-led filibuster blocked passage in the Senate, with critics arguing the bill would shortchange the civil liberties of innocent Americans.

Passage of a one-month extension would require lawmakers to debate the issue early in 2006, and is certain to require concessions to the Senate critics who are seeking greater privacy protections.

Mr. Bush carefully sidestepped the dispute that developed overnight between Republicans in the House and Senate.

"It appears to me that Congress understands we've got to keep the Patriot Act in place, that we're still under threat," Mr. Bush said before boarding a helicopter for a trip to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md.

After weeks of absorbing Republican criticism on the issue, Democrats seized on Sensenbrenner's rejection of a six-month bill.

"Congressman Sensenbrenner needs to do what's right for Americans and agree to let the bipartisan Senate bill pass promptly," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Under House rules, Sensenbrenner has the power to block enactment of the six-month law. Officials who described his position did so on condition of anonymity, citing a need to keep the matter confidence.