Attempts to settle differences in the House-Senate Conference Committee over a revised USA Patriot Act have stalled out, according to a recent article in The Washington Post. That means the present form of the law will stay in place for a month or more, unless Democrats and Republicans demanding better privacy safeguards drop or modify their demands.
One senator said despite the apparent impasse, the Bush administration is continuing to discuss possible changes and that a settlement of the dispute is still possible.
As was recently revealed, the Patriot Act makes it easier for federal agents to secretly wiretap telephones, read e-mails, seize library and bank records and search the homes of terror suspects. Several of its chief provisions were to expire at the end of December, but Congress extended them until Feb. 3 in hopes of settling the argument over how to renew the measure for four more years.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and chief negotiator for that body, U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), stated earlier that his chamber has completed talks, thus dampening hopes for a solution. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter, (R-Pa.), had given his blessing to the bicameral compromise, though recognizing it as less than perfect. Specter believes it probably is the best deal possible.
Specter said: I can tell you, after talking to Chairman Sensenbrenner, that the House feels that theyve gone as far as they can go on compromises on the act. And I think the reality may be that were looking at either the current act extended [beyond Feb. 3], or the conference report, according to the Post. The report is opposed by most Democrats and four Republicans.
One of those RepublicansSen. John Sununu, (R-N.H.), said he has had discussions with administration officials and focused on the few specific areas where we think the conference report can be improved. Sununu said if a compromise agreement cant be reached by Feb. 3, another short extension may do the trick.
Chief disagreements center on articles allowing FBI agents to get records terrorism suspects who have little means to challenge such searches. Specter claims the law provides ample judicial review of proposed searches, but Sununu and his group say the Patriot Act makes it nearly impossible for targeted individuals to clear themselves, even if they have nothing to do with terrorism.
From the Feb. 1-7, 2006, issue