Senate Moves Closer to Vote on Patriot Act
By Andrew Ramonas | May 23, 2011 5:41 pm

A bill that would extend expiring provisions of the Patriot Act for four years cleared a major hurdle in the Senate Monday, moving closer to the president’s desk.

The Senate voted 74-8 to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), bringing an up-or-down vote on the legislation closer to fruition. Approval of the cloture motion required the support of 60 senators.

Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) voted against the motion.

The bill would extend until June 1, 2015, the “roving wiretaps” power and “business records” authority, which makes it easier for federal authorities to get tangible evidence — such as library records — as part of an investigation. The legislation also would give a four-year extension to the “lone wolf” power, initially authorized under a 2004 law, which allows probes of suspected terrorists not tied to a specific organization or nation.

The three authorities are set to expire Friday.

Reid and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reached a deal on the extensions proposed in the bill Thursday. The Reid bill balances extension measures approved by the House and Senate Judiciary committees.

The bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee would extend the three expiring provisions until Dec. 31, 2013. The legislation also would set up a sunset for national security letters, which are administrative subpoenas that the FBI uses to obtain evidence without a court order.

The committee endorsed the bill in March. But the legislation didn’t garner much support from panel Republicans with only Sen. Mike Lee of Utah voting in favor of reporting the bill out of committee.

The panel announced that Leahy on Monday would introduce an amendment to the Reid bill that would set up a Dec. 31, 2013,  sunset for national security letters. Paul is a cosponsor of the amendment.

The bill approved by the House Judiciary Committee would extend the “roving wiretaps” and “business records” powers until Dec. 31, 2017. The “lone wolf” authority would receive a permanent extension.

The panel voted 22–13, mostly along party lines, to report the bill out May 12.

The three authorities are currently allowed under a 90-day extension that Congress approved in February.

The House tried to pass legislation in February that would have extended the powers until December. That bill was considered under House procedures that required a two-thirds majority to pass the bill.  But House Democrats and conservative Republicans joined together and the bill was not approved.

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