Placing Patriot Act in holding pattern was necessary
Congress has extended the Patriot Act for five weeks, refusing permanent authorization.
IN delaying reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, Congress expressed its unease with President Bush's expansive view of his powers and an imbalance in protecting the civil liberties of Americans against excessive government intrusion.
When debate about the broad antiterrorism law resumes next year, deliberative consideration will be essential in light of recent revelations of a secret spying program the president commissioned that appears to have trespassed beyond legal territory.
A fierce battle over the Patriot Act, passed just days after the 9/11 attacks, crossed party lines this week as a handful of Republicans joined Democrats in resisting pressure from the administration to make the law permanent. After weeks of heated contention, the unhappy lawmakers grudgingly agreed to a five-week extension of the act.
While it seems unlikely to occur after this week's tug of war, a bipartisan review of the act is badly needed. We've said previously that some of the provisions in the Patriot Act have been effective in combating terrorism, while others pose threats to civil liberties without a compelling reason. As it stands, the law weighs heavily in government's favor, granting law enforcement and intelligence agencies significant leeway to wiretap and to search homes, records and offices of U.S. citizens without allowing recourse, notification or reasonable review by a court.
House and Senate negotiators earlier had worked out a compromise that was acceptable to the White House. But just as the Senate was to take a vote, the New York Times reported that Bush in October 2001 had ordered wiretaps on foreigners and Americans without warrants from a secret court that routinely approves the government's requests.
The president's assertion that Congress by resolution implicitly granted him license to order domestic eavesdropping was countered in a disclosure by former Sen. Tom Daschle (D, South Dakota) that the administration, two weeks before Bush's order, had sought such authority, but was rebuffed. Moreover, the resolution makes no reference to surveillance or the president's intelligence-gathering powers.
The Patriot Act's extension to Feb. 2 places it on Congress' agenda at the same time that the Senate begins an investigation of the spying program. Heightened concern that Bush might have exceeded his authority undoubtedly will play into the debate.
Bush believes that the spy program and the Patriot Act are necessary tools in safeguarding against the nation's enemies, but he is also sworn to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution, which does not concede any president singular power.
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