"We need the Patriot Act," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter. "I'm prepared to work on it further to improve it."
Sixteen provisions of the 2001 law were to have expired last Dec. 31, but Congress extended them until Friday after Democrats and a handful of Senate Republicans demanded an avenue of appeals when the FBI makes demands for people's financial and other private records.
The Senate voted 95-1 Thursday night to extend the current law unchanged through March 10 and give negotiators more time to reach a deal. Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., a longtime opponent of the Patriot Act, cast the sole vote against the extension..
Several Republican and Democratic officials involved in negotiations said that agreements had been reached on several issues but that others needed more time.
Earlier in the week, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, one of the negotiators who helped block the act's renewal last year, told reporters almost all of his concerns had been worked out with the White House.
He and Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., want parts of the act to be rewritten in several areas, including giving banks, libraries and Internet service providers the right to appeal when the FBI seeks financial and other records of their customers and clients.
The law makes it easier for federal agents to gather and share information in terrorism investigations, install wiretaps and conduct secret searches of households and businesses. At issue are 16 provisions that Congress wanted reviewed and renewed by the end of last year.
Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Conrad Burns, R-Mont., Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., did not vote.
Just before leaving for Christmas, Congress extended the law until Feb. 3. Senate Democrats and four libertarian-leaning Republicans had blocked a final vote on a measure negotiated by the White House that would have made permanent most expiring provisions. The Republicans were concerned about excessive police powers.
"It is imperative that we not play political games with the tools that our law enforcement needs to prevent another terrorist attack," said the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.
House Democrats said they did not want the Patriot Act to expire but are pressing for civil rights protections before renewing it permanently. The extension "will give members a chance to work together," said Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va.
Added Rep. Jane Harmon, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee: "We must extend it, mend it, but not end it."