Last July, the Senate unanimously approved bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. That bill included many improvements that would help alleviate longstanding civil liberties concerns. By the time the bill emerged from a House-Senate conference committee over four months later, most of those improvements had vanished without a trace.
The White House demanded that the Senate accept this seriously flawed legislation, and threatened to veto any effort to extend the expiring provisions rather than try to reach an accommodation.
Today, in a bipartisan vote, the Senate called the president's bluff. Senators properly rejected the conference report and offered to extend the expiring provisions for three months to allow time for further negotiations. Citing the veto threat, the majority leader refused to allow that proposal to come to a vote.
It is hard to imagine a more cynical maneuver. For months, the administration has loudly insisted that the expiring PATRIOT Act provisions must not be allowed to lapse for a single day. Now the president has decided he would rather let those provisions expire than take the time to resolve the outstanding issues.
The Administration is playing politics here, refusing to keep the provisions from expiring and hoping to blame the Senate when they lapse.
Recent reports have demonstrated all too clearly the merits of the senators' concerns. The Washington Post revealed the FBI's extensive use of National Security Letters to obtain access, secretly and without a court order, to the private records of American citizens. And just this morning, the New York Times published the stunning revelation that the president has secretly authorized domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency since 2002.
Given these realities, members of the Senate must not allow the administration to intimidate them into abdicating their responsibility. We trust that they will continue to insist that the expiring provisions be extended until reasonable amendments can be negotiated in good faith.
Mark D. Agrast is a Senior Fellow and Peter P. Swire is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.