Date published: March 7, 2011
Journal code: NEAM
Legislation extending key PATRIOT Act provisions set to expire on February 28 was sent to President Obama for his signature on February 1? (the day this magazine is going to the printer). Obama is expected to sign the bill, which will extend those provisions another three months, though the White House had earlier indicated its preference for extending the provisions through 2113.
In a surprising turn of events on February 8, the U.S. House of Representatives defeated the PATRIOT extension when it was brought up under a suspension of the rules that did not allow for any amendments but also required a two-thirds majority vote for passage. The GOP Party leadership expected the bill to pass with a two-thirds majority because they were backing it, but it didn't happen because a number of Republicans broke with their party leadership. According to The HiIl1 "More than two dozen Republicans bucked their leadership in the vote, by far the biggest defection for the House GOP since it took over the lower chamber. Until tonight's vote, Republicans voted together in all but two votes this year, and in those two votes, only one Republican voted with Democrats."
This defeat forced the House leadership to scramble and hold another vote on February 14, this time under rules requiring a simple majority. On this occasion, the House voted to extend the expiring provisions through December. The next day, the Senate voted for an extension of only three months - even though, as reported by the Washington Post, "The Senate had been considering several different proposals that would have extended the Patriot Act provisions permanently or through 2013." However, the Post noted, "The move [i.e., the short-term extensionl is designed to buy time for lawmakers to fully debate and hold hearings on the controversial counterterrorism surveillance law." Two days later, the House voted to go along with the three-month extension, clearing the legislation but also setting the stage for another battle on the PATRIOT Act soon.
The PATRIOT Act allows FBI agents to write their own search warrants without approval of a judge, and allows the warrants to be open-ended without the specificity required by the Constitution's Fourth Amendment. During the Senate debate on the PATRIOT Act extension, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who opposes the PATRIOT Act, lamented: "Now we have essentially government agents, akin to soldiers, writing warrants; it's ripe for abuse."