Washington • The House on Tuesday failed to extend the life of three surveillance tools that are key to the nation's post-Sept. 11 anti-terror law, a slipup for the new Republican leadership that miscalculated the level of opposition.
The House voted 277-148 to keep the three provisions of the USA Patriot Act on the books until Dec. 8. But Republicans brought up the bill under a special expedited procedure requiring a two-thirds majority, and the vote was seven short of reaching that level.
The Republicans, who took over the House last month, lost 26 of their own members, adding to the 122 Democrats who voted against it. Supporters say the three measures are vital to preventing another terrorist attack, but critics say they infringe on civil liberties. They appealed to the antipathy that newer and more conservative Republicans hold for big government invasions of individual privacy.
The Patriot Act bill would have renewed the authority for court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones. Also addressed was Section 215, the so-called library records provision that gives the FBI court-approved access to "any tangible thing" relevant to a terrorism investigation.
The third deals with the "lone-wolf" provision of a 2004 anti-terror law that permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. people not known to be affiliated with a specific terrorist organization.
Sen. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the former Judiciary Committee chairman who authored the 2001 Patriot Act, urged his colleagues to support the extensions, saying they were needed as a stopgap until permanent statutes could be agreed upon.
"The terrorist threat has not subsided and will not expire, and neither should our national security laws," he said.
But Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said Republican supporters of the tea party movement should show their opposition to big government by joining Democrats in opposing the measure.
"How about the Patriot Act, which has the broadest reach and the deepest reach of government to our daily lives?" he asked.